Quebec Studies

When Hollywood Speaks "International French:" The Sociopolitics of Dubbing for Francophone Québec

Quebec Studies (2010), 50, (1), 27–46.

Abstract

27 When Hollywood Speaks "International French:" The Sociopolitics of Dubbing for Francophone Québec 1 Luise von Flotow University of Ottawa Introduction Translation of a particular sort provokes regular political uproars and scan­ dals in Québec. It is the stuff of parliamentary debates, laws and regula­ tions (and their amendments), countless letters to the editors, and numerous websites and blogs. Given the fact that almost 99% of the audio­ visual product screened in Québec is originally in English, and from Holly­ wood (SODEC 2008), translation issues are very public. A recent scandal illustrates the powerful emotional and sociopolitical debates set off in Québec by ... film dubbing. In June 2007, controversies erupted around the dubbed-in-France version of Shrek the Third, the third in a series of animated Hollywood children's movies constructed around a green ogre who sets out with a noisy donkey at his side to free his swamp of various fairytale crea­ tures and meets love in the process. Due to the policies of Dreamworks/ Paramount studios, this series is dubbed only in France and then distrib­ uted in Québec. The dubbing raised the ire of local Québec politician Mario Dumont (Action démocratique du Québec) to such an extent that he sought to address the problem with legislative solutions. He claimed that his and many other Québec children could not understand the Franco-French put in the mouths of the Hollywood creatures, and argued that this was a polit­ ical matter that needed to be addressed by the provincial government. While Dumont objected in particular to the French slang used by the Shrek characters, many other aspects of Franco-French dubbing tend to irri­ tate Québec audiences: regional French expressions, French syntax, French pronunciation, and the pitch of the actors' voices which is much higher and more "pointu," more hectic. Dumont's bill did not go far in the Assemblée nationale in Québec City, since it did not have the support of the Minister of Culture, who instead sent a representative to Hollywood to try to broker a deal with the major studios that would see more movies dubbed espe­ cially for and in Québec. Yet, the controversy served, once again, to stir up opinions on this translation issue, revealing its importance to Québec Francophones. The controversies are not restricted to Hollywood films dubbed-inFrance, however. They can be even more virulent when American audio­ visual products are made to speak Québécois. A case in point is the 1999 American television series, Ally McBeal. Bought by Quebec's TVA, dubbed into Québécois, and scheduled to run in prime time, it failed because of the outcry around the language it used. It was quickly taken off the air, to be replaced a few years later by the version dubbed-in-France. Indeed, the tolerance level for Québec French from the mouths of international actors 2 3 Québec Studies, Volume 50, Fall 2010/Winter 2011

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von Flotow, Luise