Subject and screenplay:
Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks
Italian dialogues and dubbing direction:
Vittorio di Prima
“Take a close look”, the subtitles say. A close look, almost through a wide open lens of a camcorder zoom, at the bitter worrying events of a “normal” American family.
A close look at the story of a life which passes by almost unnoticed, between the miscomprehensions of a marriage gone cold and the restlessness of a daughter who no longer even tries to have a relationship with her parents.
Lester Burnham is a typical forty year old, dissatisfied with life and affections who becomes infatuated with a friend of his daughter. This is the turn in his existence which will make him question his entire life, from his relationship with his wife to his profession. In an ironically “beautiful” America, he understands that “it’s never too late to go back” and tries to retrieve his very existence through a rebellious path against pre-constructed schemes in which he had lost himself. He understands the beauty of life the instant before he’s killed, but that instant has the value of an entire existence.
American Beauty is a film with a slow rhythm in parts but is anything but boring. It has an apparently linear speed, but is, in reality, rich in deep thought. It is above all a stylish film. From the elegant and significant photography to the wise construction of the shots, to the impeccable assemblage, it has the talent reserved for the “greatest”: you can see it again and still discover new aspects.
Every-day speech is used for the original dialogues, with typical expressions of common speech like “chick” (bambina), “freak” (persona bizzarra), “high” (drogato), “phoney” (fasulla), “pot” and “joint” (spinello), “uptight” (formalista), the verbs “to screw up” (incasinare), “to level with” (dire la verità), and all expressions which have sexual connotations. It’s above all the youngsters who use this type of language, who use expressions like “yo” (ciao), “whoa!” (in Italian translated with “cavolo!”) and ASAP, abbreviation of “as soon as possible”.
The dubbing maintains this type of speech; every day words are privileged like “schiappa” (bungler), “che schifo” (that’s disgusting), “sgarrare” (make a mistake), “bella mossa” (nice move), “frocio” (gay), “budella”(intestines), “bamboccetta” (empty headed), “rompipalle” (pain in the neck); verbs like “slinguazzare” (lick all over??), “sparacchiare” (shoot out); sentences like “sono sputata per fare la modella” (I’m made for being a model), “sta pensando di farsi la macchina anche lei” (she’s also thinking of buying a car), “fai un tiro (di sigaretta)?” (have a drag (of a cigarette), “sei strafregata” (you’re in the s***s).
Here’s an example: the dialogue between Lester and his daughter during supper: the man is talking about his day in work and seeing his daughter’s bored expression exclaims: «Non te ne può fregare di meno, vero?» (you couldn’t care less, could you?); the answer is blunt: «Scusa, che ti aspetti? Non puoi a un tratto essere il mio migliore amico solo perché hai avuto una giornataccia» (What do you expect? You can’t all of a sudden be my best friend just because you had a bad day). Furthermore, in a dialogue between husband and wife she apostrophizes him with: «Cosa diavolo credi di fare?» (What the hell do you think you’re doing?), and a little later: «Lester, ti avverto che non la farai franca, puoi starne più che certo!» (You will not get away with this, you can be sure of that!).
In the original version the characters do not use vulgar language: swearing is hardly heard and even then pronounced in moments of anger; at most there are some curses which we also use. The Italian version maintains this standard and on the contrary, slightly changes some lines to eliminate any vulgarity; for example, in the scene in which Ricky shows Jane a plate which belonged to Hitler and says to her: «There’s a whole subculture of people who collect this Nazi shit». In Italian it would have been: «c’è tutta una sottocultura di gente che colleziona questa merda nazista». The Italian dubbing eliminates the swearword and prefers the expression “cose naziste” (Nazi things). Furthermore, original exclamations like “Jesus!”, “Christ!” are dubbed with less harsh terms like “per la miseria!”, “accidenti!” (good gosh!).
In some big impact scenes one would expect a word or two out of place, a curse, an imprecation, and so we smile when we hear Lester, at the end of yet another quarrel with his wife, bitterly apostrophizing and calling her a «pesce lesso arraffasoldi e sbarellata» (a tottering, boiled, money-grabbing fish) (in the original version he says to her «you bloodless, money-grubbing freak», practically he calls her mad, mean and heartless); or Ricky’s father, the moment he sends him out of the house because he thinks he’s gay, exclaims, at the height of his anger «puoi metterci la mano sul fuoco!» (you can put your hand in the fire), compared with the much stronger «you’re damn straight I do!» in the original version.
The only lines which maintain the original “unpleasantness” are those pronounced by Ricky to his dad, a retired Marines colonel. The man hides his homosexuality in shame behind the solid figure of the American soldier, the image of a real, strong, man intransigent and racist; the only way Ricky can communicate with his father is by conforming to this model to humor and please him, because it’s the only way that his father understands.
In a conversation between the two of them regarding the homosexual neighbors (whom the father ferociously criticizes), at first Ricky tries to propose his view of the thing but when he understands that there’s no room for discussion, he resigns to play the part of the soldier: «forgive me sir for speaking so bluntly, but those fags make me want to puke my fucking guts out», translated with «perdoni signore le mie parole perentorie; quei froci mi fanno vomitare le budella dalla nausea, cazzo». And his father looks at him with understanding.
Despite censorship, the dubbing effectiveness of this film is thanks to this “faithfulness” to the original, not only from the linguistic point of view but above all for the “atmosphere” of the story: where there are misunderstandings between husband and wife, where there is a lack of dialogue between parents and offspring, the speech cannot be anything but “flat”. And this is not because the characters lack intelligence, but because they aren’t capable of using the original language because they’re no longer capable of communicating. In fact the adaptation manages to recreate the original linguistic universe, giving us a film which never exceeds; the speech travels on everyday tracks without falling into the easy trap of vulgarity where more often than not one falls when trying to represent a society in crisis. But one mustn’t think that the language used is “poor”: and in fact, unexpectedly, in Ricky’s monologue in of the image of a plastic bag moved by the wind we realize that the film is capable of giving us moments of pure poetry «Era una di quelle giornate in cui fra un minuto nevica, e c’è elettricità nell’aria. Puoi quasi sentirla. E questa busta era lì, danzava con me; come una bambina che mi supplicasse di giocare. Per quindici minuti. È stato il giorno in cui ho capito che c’era tutta un’intera vita dietro ogni cosa; e una incredibile forza benevola che voleva sapessi che non c’era motivo di avere paura. Mai» (It was one of those days in which it would start snowing at any moment and there’s electricity in the air. You can almost hear it. And this plastic bag was there, dancing with me; like a little girl begging me to play with her. For fifteen minutes. It was the day I realized that there’s a whole life behind every given thing; and an incredible benevolent force which wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid. Ever).
The choice of the Italian voices is a wise one, capable of rendering the contrasting feelings of the characters, the sweetness, the nostalgia. The long intense final line, an affectionate departure from life and all its wonder, is entrusted to the lovely voice of the star, off screen in many moments of the story, «È difficile restare arrabbiati quando c’è tanta bellezza nel mondo. A volte è come se la vedessi tutta insieme, ed è troppa: il cuore mi si riempie come un palloncino che sta per scoppiare. E poi mi ricordo di rilassarmi, e smetto di cercare di tenermela stretta. E dopo scorre attraverso me come pioggia, e io non posso provare altro che gratitudine, per ogni singolo momento della mia stupida, piccola vita». (It’s difficult to stay angry when there’s so much beauty in this world. At times it’s as if I’m seeing it all at the same time and it’s too much: my heart fills up like a balloon about to explode. And then I remember to relax, and I stop trying to keep it (the beauty) close to me. And afterwards it goes though me like rain and I can’t but feel gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life).
[original review in Italian by Bianca Rabbiosi]