The Multilingual Inglourious Basterds

Last Friday I had a rather peculiar movie going experience – perhaps the most peculiar I’ve ever had. I went to watch the premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Inglourious Basterds together with a British friend of mine who was visiting. He does not speak a lick of Norwegian, other than maybe knowing the words “Takk” and “Ja” and “Ostehøvel”.

I didn’t know much about the film going in, other than the fact that it was supposed to revolve around world war 2 and starred Brad Pitt. I presumed the film would be in English, as all of Tarantino’s previous films, but we quickly found out that the film was multilingual, with many long dialogue-heavy scenes conducted in German or French, and some in Italian. All of the subtitles were in Norwegian.

Thus I had to give my British friend a running translation of the Norwegian subtitles throughout, translating the Norwegian subtitles whenever anyone spoke in a language other than English.

Other than the inconvenience involved with having to try to consider the other moviegoers when translating, which basically involved leaning in close to one another and trying to speak with a low voice, there were other factors that made it a somewhat taxing affair. For example: sometimes there would be a lot of talking on the screen, and by the time I’d translated one line I’d already missed the next one; sometimes there’d be lengthy, hard to pronounce names; a lot that was said was “chatter”, pleasantries exchanged between characters not directly relevant to the plot, like requests for someone to take a seat; sometimes what was being said wouldn’t immediately make sense, and I’d hesitate to translate until I knew what the heck was going on; and it’s tricky to get all the grammar right on the fly.

Despite appearances, Brad Pitt is not the main character of the film.

Despite appearances, Brad Pitt is not the main character of the film.

Still, it was a somewhat fun experience. Certainly made it a memorable evening, and made me feel helpful, even though I messed up now and then. I was also amused when I could recognize the odd German word and be able to give it a slightly more accurate translation that what it had been given in the subtitles.

As for the actual film, it was pretty good. Not mind blowingly amazing, but certainly more than sufficiently entertaining. My role as a translator while viewing it definitely coloured my experience some though, both in good and bad ways, but it was enjoyable. Suspenseful, exciting, funny, sad, with some great use of music (even with an oddly placed David Bowie song).

I do have one minor quibble with the marketing of the film that I feel like airing. Namely, that Brad Pitt is made out to be the main character on the film’s poster; the truth is that he is a main character, and I believe there are other characters in the film who get more screen time than he does. I like Brad Pitt as an actor though.

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