Monday 15 December 2008

"Foreign" accents

There’s something about English-speaking actors using foreign accents that really irritates me. I don’t mean when the character is in a foreign land, though Andy Serkis’s French in Little Dorrit was, what shall I say, luxuriant. No, the inanity, I think, is when a bunch of characters are speaking the same language and STILL accent it.

The BBC’s recent Einstein And Eddington had all the German-speakers use slight accents when speaking with each other. It grated for the first ten minutes or so, but after a while I accepted it as a way of differentiating one nation from another. But I recently saw The Reader, which is set entirely in Germany and in which only German is spoken; but Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes were required to speak to each other in Jorman eksents. Which seemed ridiculous. I sat there completely unengaged with the beginning of the film thinking come on, people, Wallander was set in Sweden and accepted English accents, what’s the problem?

After a while I began to realise that it was a way of accommodating two different nationalities in the cast. Apart from the two principals, most of the cast were German. The acting was of a high standard; this rantette isn’t intended to belittle the cast’s considerable skill.

As the original novel is a set text in German schools, I imagine they have also shot a German language version. But the use of accents still felt like a rather uncomfortable compromise.

Here’s another lost in translation item. The German title, Der Vorleser, means not simply the reader but someone who reads aloud, to an audience. Which is precisely what Fiennes’ character does for a large part of his life. It’s so frustrating when such precision is not readily translatable.


Michael Cook said...

maybe they should have called it "The Reader Who Reads Aloud To An Audience". The "Unbearable Lightness of Being" for the 21st century!

John Soanes said...

They should all speak the lingo, as Jodie Foster did for 'A Very Long Engagement'... well, okay, maybe that's not so feasible.
If memory serves, there was a bit at the start of The Hunt For Red October where you see people speaking russian with subtitles, and then the camera moves in on one of the characters' mouths, and they switch to English from there onwards. I may have the wrong film, and I've probably described it poorly, but it did a good job of letting you know that the characters were, no matter what you might hear, be speaking another language.

John Soanes said...

Ugh, typos aplenty there. I do apologise!