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Mamma mia!
(Mamma mia!, Usa/Gran Bretagna 2008)

Mamma Mia! is an interesting film to analyze as regards dubbing and subtitling because it is taken from the theatre and because it is a musical. It’s the story of Donna, a single mother and an independent woman and of her daughter Sophie who is getting married. Sophie doesn’t know who her father is (neither does her mother know) but her dream is to walk down the aisle with her father, so she invites three men from her mother’s past.

The film is narrated both through the dialogues as well as by songs by Abba, a famous Swedish pop group of the Seventies. There is in fact a strong connection between the dialogues and the songs that are vital to narrate the film that would not be complete with the dialogues alone.

But how do you dub a film like this, that has both dialogues and songs that are known all over the world? The choice is rather obvious and is to leave the parts that are sung in their original version, adding subtitles. I expected to be a bit disturbed by the change in voices from dialogues to songs but, quite surprisingly, I didn’t pay much attention to that aspect. Personally, I feel it a lot more disturbing to have subtitles run across my screen but this time they were fundamental for those who don’t know English since they were strictly linked to the storyline.

I will analyze some critical aspects of the film, regarding the dialogues, subtitles and acting.

As regards the dialogues, I thought there were quite a few incoherent choices, among which the decision to deliberately leave some words in English even though there is a perfect Italian translation to fit. I’m referring to the scene in which Donna and her two friends, who have come to Greece for the wedding, are chatting about their lives in general and one of them mentions her third husband while the other one says how she is a single woman. Donna’s comment is: «Nice example you are for Sophie you two! The serial bride and the hermit» which was translated «Bell’esempio siete per Sophie voi due! Vi presento la serial moglie e l’eremita». Not such a good choice since in Italian expressions such as “assassino seriale” are very common. In the same way «I know you’ll get rich with Sky’s website» is translated «So che diventerai ricca con il website di Sky» leaving the English “website” when they could have used the Italian “sito”. A part from the rather incorrect choice, there is also a mistake in the line: «Sky is gonna put me on the line», translated as «Sky mi metterà on the line». The attempt was to recreate the mistake and the pun on words of the original but it cannot be understood by an Italian audience and it would have been more appropriate to choose something like «Sky mi metterà nella rete» (Sky will put me in the net).

Often there are strong culture-specific references that are obvious for the audience of the source text but must be slightly changed in order to be understood by an Italian audience. There is a particular scene in which Donna realizes that all three of her daughter’s possible fathers have been invited to the wedding and she is very worried about it and her friend says: «It’s very Greek». In Italian the line is translated as «È tutto molto greco». It alludes to the fact that everything is like a big drama and over the top but can an Italian understand this? Someone English would call something “Greek” when it’s over the top a bit like the Italian “sceneggiata napoletana” (Neapolitan drama) but I think it’s quite out of place for an Italian audience and they could have used a more neutral word like “melodrammatico”. A translation choice I agree with on the other hand, regards the wedding vows at the end of the film. Sam, one of Donna’s ex boyfriends, asks her to marry him after her daughter Sophie’s wedding was put off. In English her answer is «I do, I do, I do, I do» and finally it is translated correctly and not with dubbese “lo voglio” but simply “sì, sì, sì, sì”.

Another critical point is when lines are strongly related to images. We have an example when Donna and her friends are chatting on the bed about her money problems and her friend Tanya offers to lend her some money. Donna has got a drill in her hand and switches it on raising it up straight and alluding to the male genitals.

The original version is as follows: Tanya: «Do you need a loan?»
Donna: «No sweet, oh God. I don’t need to be taken care of.»
Tanya: «Yeah but are you being taken care of? Are you getting any?»
In the Italian version:
Tanya: «Ti serve un prestito?»
Donna: «No, non mi serve l’aiuto di nessuno»
Tanya: «Si, ma c’è qualcuno che te lo dà? Ti fai qualcuno?»

In English, «Are you getting any» alludes to sex in Donna’s life while the Italian version is far too direct «Ti fai qualcuno?» and ruins the double entendre and the pun between the scene and unspoken words.

There is a scene in which I think the lines and the image are correctly linked also in the Italian version and it’s when Donna, falling from the ceiling, lands with her legs open on a mattress in front of her three ex boyfriends and one of them says: «You’ve always known how to make an entrance», «Le entrate sono sempre state il tuo forte» which alludes but without exaggerating.

As regards the subtitles of the songs, in general they are done quite well, although there was no attempt to recreate the rhymes, which might have been pointless since the real aim was to make people understand their meaning. There is however a mistake in a subtitle in the song The winner takes it all in which Donna is singling to Sam and says: «You must know I miss you», translated in the subtitle as «penso che ti manco» (I think you miss me). There must have been a mistake in understanding but it completely changed the meaning of the line.

I also noticed that short subs, made up of even just one word, were left on screen too long to try and follow the rhythm of the song but I think you listen to a song and you don’t read it. As regards the acting, I like Sophie’s dubbing, very sweet and recreated rather well by Myriam Catania. As regards the famous line of the film, acted by Meryl Streep at her daughter’s wedding, there was a drop in voltage I believe and the fun of the original was lost. I’m referring to the scene in which Sophie decides not to get married at the very last and confesses to her mother that she was the one who invited her three ex lovers to the wedding. She says she doesn’t care who her real father is and doesn’t care if her mother slept with hundreds of men. In the original, Meryl Streep answers saying that they weren’t hundreds, stressing the word hundreds, as if to say, they weren’t that much, 99 possibly but not 100. In Italian, the whole tone was flattened losing the original fun of the line.


[original review in Italian by Marina Daniela Falcone]


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