Catalans want Hollywood to speak their language

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The Independent Online
AMONG LAST week's Oscar nominations for best foreign film is a Spanish offering, based on the classic 19th-century family saga El Abuelo - The Grandfather. The three-and-a-half-hour epic tells of a bitter struggle between love and honour in a fading aristocratic world. It is well acted, nicely plotted, beautifully shot. But it is also dubbed. Into Spanish.

The film stars veteran Spanish screen hero Fernando Fernan-Gomez in the title role and was obviously shot in Spanish. But it was then dubbed with a separately recorded, not-quite-matching dialogue, so the spoken word is fractionally disconnected from the movement of the actors' lips.

One might assume that this infuriating phenomena, which afflicts faded romances from the Franco years, had long been banished to history's cutting room floor. But El Abuelo is a shocking aberration. Whether the Oscar jury views the film with a dubbed English dialogue or with subtitles makes little difference. The "original version" is lost.

Until recently it was rare for Spaniards to see foreign films with subtitles. It was assumed that Spaniards would not read on the screen. As a result, dubbing was big business and gave jobs to legions of Spaniards, some becoming famous as "Bogart" or "Connery". Some cinemas in big cities now offer foreign movies in the original. But dubbing is still popular and most imports are still dubbed into Spanish.

This has been challenged by the Catalans, who want them dubbed into their vernacular; Spanish for them is a second language. The idea has been around for years, and is gathering strength as the Catalan language gains ground in tandem with the rise of Catalan nationalism.

Catalonia's regional government recently passed a decree that five big US producers and distributors, Fox, Columbia, United International Pictures, Disney (Buena Vista) and Warner Brothers, must dub half of their box- office successes into Catalan.

The big five, and six independent Spanish distributors, rubbished the idea and appealed in the Catalan High Court against the ruling. The Catalan leader, Jordi Pujol, insisted he would stick to his guns, but conceded he might postpone implementation of the ruling pending negotiations with Hollywood, which, he admitted, "will be long and complicated".

Hollywood, however, is resisting Catalan demands to share the cost. At present, the Catalan government foots the bill for dubbing Hollywood blockbusters, and then only on sufferance. "We offered to dub Titanic but they refused," grumbles Mr Pujol. "And this film made 111m pesetas (pounds 475,000) last year in Catalonia."