Laurie Macdonald, Walter F. Parkes, Jim Van Wyck
Italian dialogues and dubbing direction:
Dubbing Brothers International Italia
Maria Pia Di Meo
Stefano De Sando
The novels written by Lemony Snicket (the writer Daniel Handler) have obtained success everywhere both from the public and from the critics. Amongst American bestsellers for youngsters, they have equalled the popularity of Harry Potter and are famous worldwide.
The Baudelaire siblings are orphaned when a fire destroys their home; they are taken in by friends of the family and distant relations, first amongst all, the treacherous Count Olaf, improbable actor and master of disguise, who resorts to every single possible wickedness in order to get his hands on to the children’s inheritance. Each of the three siblings has a particular gift which helps them overcome difficulties: the first-born Violet is an exceptional inventor; Klaus is an insatiable reader, who remembers the contents of every single book read; little Sunny is an adorable little girl, obsessed with biting things. Soon the youngsters discover that behind the death of their parents lies a secret and they find themselves involved in a never-ending adventure facing poisonous reptiles, leeches, typhoons, but above all, they learn that with imagination and love, all evil will be overcome.
The moral of the story is understood through a letter which the Baudelaire’s parents write to their children shortly before dying: "A volte il mondo può sembrare un luogo ostile e sinistro. Ma credeteci quando diciamo che ci sono più cose buone che cattive. Dovete osservare con attenzione. E quella che magari appare una serie di sfortunati eventi, può, di fatto, essere il primo passo di un viaggio" (at times the world seems hostile and sinister. Believe us when we say that there are more good things than bad. Observe with care and attention as that which might appear to be a series of unfortunate events could be the first step of a journey).
It’s a story of determination and perseverance, which shows the incredible strength of children who trust their instinct, their innocence, against a world of grown-ups who instead, have lost that innocence forever.
This film is a cinematographic adaptation of the first novels: the timeless atmosphere, the bizarre settings, the extravagant characters, are all elements which have purposefully remained faithful to the spirit of the novel. The language is also well adapted to the particularity of the story and maintains continuity with the written adventures, both as far as the role of the all-knowing narrator Lemony Snicket (in the film he’s the one who tells the tale, explains, warns) is concerned and as far as the place and character names are concerned: “Spiaggia Salmastra”, “Lago Lacrimoso”, Uncle Montgomery’s incredibly mortal snake “vipera incredibilmente mortale”, are but a few of the names which concern the novels and which are found in the film.
Above all the analysis of Olaf/Jim Carrey’s language is interesting in its various disguises, in that each character he brings to life has a particular way of speaking. Olaf is a mediocre actor full of foolish fancies, who lives in a vaguely gothic-styled villa, surrounded by a disturbing theatrical company: his speech mirrors this situation and is original and full of pathos. This is seen right from the first line: “intrude!”, which he exclaims to Mr. Poe who knocks on his door. The verb means “entrare senza essere invitati” (enter without being asked to), but could have been rendered with a simple “entrate!” (come in). Instead the dialogist has chosen to translate it with an: “intromettetevi!” (interfere), an absolutely bizarre term in the context in which it is inserted but in line with the eccentricity of the character.
We hear him offer the youngsters a “beveraggio”, translation of the imaginary “imbibement” created in the wake of the verb “to imbibe” (“bere” (drink), exactly); and exclaim unusual expressions like “hairless lothario” (literally “seduttore senza capelli” seducer without hair), well rendered with “glabro drudo” and the comical manner in which he pronounces the English word “surprise”, which he reads as it’s written is almost a refrain.
The character of Stephano is characterised in a lesser measure by his language; in this case Carrey plays with camouflaging his voice, using many interjections and an accent which seems Italian; and in fact he says he’s “an Italian man” (the name itself leads us to think that). The dubbing gives us a character who, not being able to force the Italian accent, uses a vaguely French one, but the line on the Italian origin (I’m an Italian from Italy) remains. Thus a false note is created: the character says he’s Italian and speaks French. Perhaps the desire is to underline Olaf’s terrible acting talent in pretending to be Italian but who doesn’t know the accent? The reason for this choice isn’t clear and even though the character is comical another way could have been chosen in describing him.
Captain Sham, lastly, is characterised in the original version by small grammatical mistakes and familiar expressions like “how sorry I is”, “meself”, “ya” (you); in Italian his imperfect language is rendered with expressions like “perdinci!” (good gracious), “mi prendi per i fondelli? (you’re pulling my leg)”, “accidentaccio” (oh dearie me), “figli di cerbottana!”.
Seeing as Sham’s intention is to gain Aunt Josephine’s trust, he confuses her with inconclusive sentences which appear deep in significance. We hear him say that the grammar (of which Aunt Josephine is a firm supporter) “è la torta sotto la ciliegina, l’uovo sbattuto nello zabaione; senza una buona grammatica ci si ritrova con una mano davanti e poi casca l’asino” (it’s the cherry on the cake, the egg in the egg-nog; without good grammar etc.) In the original version the lines are built probably on manners of speech and therefore the dubbing chose not to do a literal translation but to play on analogous stereotyped expressions. The importance is to recreate the character’s absurdity interpreted by Olaf: an old sailor with a pipe and a wooden leg, who fills his mouth with words without in actual fact saying a thing.
Some word games and etymological explanations have been adapted in the dubbing area.
At dinner, Olaf asks the youngsters: “why aren’t you children in the kitchen preparing our diner?”; plays with the similarity between the English “dinner” and the French “dîner” and in fact before Violet’s surprised expression, says: “it’s the French word for evening meal”. Unable to say the same thing in Italian, an analogous expression is used: “perché non siete in cucina a prepararci les repasso?”; and continues: “termine francese, significa pasto” (French term, means meal). In this case, a new word has been invented (“repasso”) which however maintains a link with French seeing as meal in Paris is “repas”.
Another important adaptation regards the term “roast beef”; “it’s the Swedish term for beef that is roasted”, explains Olaf. In the dubbing the original translation could have been kept: “è il termine svedese per la carne che è stata arrostita”. Instead “roast beef” was translated with “carne arrosto”, and the next line was changed to: “è un termine che deriva da suo inventore, si chiamava Ariosto”. (it’s an expression which originates from its inventor who was called Ariosto).
Certain translation choices aren’t as successful: Stephano’s line “I’ll take a gander” is translated with “vado a dare una scòrsa” (I’ll go and have a peep). This last term is out of line with respect to the rest of the dialogue and doesn’t add comicality to the character.
Same with, Aunt Josephine’s quip “I never turn on the radiator” is literally translated with “io non accendo mai il radiatore”; the thought goes straight to the car radiator and the use of a synonym like “termosifone” (heater/stove/electrical fire) would have been more effective.
Lastly, there’s a pronunciation error to be pointed out: the line “watch out for those avocados: the pit could become lodged in our throats” is wrongly dubbed in “attenti a quegli avocado: i nocciòli potrebbero insediarsi nella gola”. It’s difficult to get a (noccioli) nut tree stuck in your throat although it could happen with a nut.
It was surely a simple slip up and all in all it’s comforting to know that, at times, even the best make mistakes.
[original review in Italian by Bianca Rabbiosi]