To dub or not to dub: That is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare)
Like many people all over the world, I’ve been watching Lupin on Netflix. It’s been a huge success, even in the USA, where I’m told French shows apparently don’t usually do well.
It starts as a kind of a heist story, but as the series progresses, you realize there’s much more going on, and the heist has a symbolic significance. It also stars Omar Sy, who is one of my favorite French actors. But more of him later.
I also like a lot of French movies and TV shows. My French is basic schoolgirl French from the dark ages *g* but I’m very lucky in that we have a public TV station here that shows TV and movies from all sorts of countries — in the original language with English subtitles. We also have a cinema chain that each year features a “film festival” from countries like France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Scandinavian, Asian and Latin American, as well as individual foreign films from a range of other countries. Again these are shown in the original language, with English subtitles.
So last month I started to watch Lupin. It’s not the first time I’ve watched a French series on Netflix — I loved Call My Agent which was in French with subtitles.
Imagine my surprise when, as Lupin started, the voices of the actors were dubbed over with American voices. No, no no! I told the TV screen! Dubbing ruins it. I think you lose so much of the atmosphere and subtlety if you dub an actor’s voice into another language. The voices, the expressions — acting is the whole person.
Of course, with subtitles you also lose some of the detail — they have to be brief and to the point, and they are often culturally slanted for an English-speaking audience — but for me that compromise is still much better than dubbing.
So I went looking on line to see if I could watch Lupin without the dubbing. I found this article from the Chicago Tribune —and they agreed with me. Then, after a little more exploring, I found that I could set up my screen on Netflix to watch it in the original French with English subtitles. So much better. (And if you speak/read another language you can select that too, I think.) Look up “help” in Netflix.
So I watched the first series of Lupin— one episode per night: I’m not a binge watcher, I like to spread out my treats—and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I’m about to start watching the second half of the series. I believe it was delayed by CoVid.
In the meantime, if you get the chance to watch more Omar Sy movies, these are two of my favorite French movies starring him.
Another French TV series on Netflix that I recommend is Call My Agent. (Original French title Dix pour cent; “ten percent”) I loved it. It’s a series set in an agency representing actors. Deals are struck, lost, mistakes made, coverups attempted, affairs are had, there is backstabbing, scheming, and all sorts. Each episode includes a real French movie star acting as themselves, which is fun. The dialogue is rapid fire, funny, snarky and clever.
The characters are fantastic, and they cover quite a range — straight, gay, young, middle-aged, old — in fact Liliane Rovère the actress who plays the agent called Arlette, is currently 88 years old! And on the show she is not only still a working agent, she is highly valued for her experience and skills. And there’s even a dog!
Another thing that impressed me was that pretty much every main character has a character arc across the first 3 series (18 episodes). I also really liked that series 3 tied the stories up nicely — so many series writers leave you hanging in the hope that another series will be commissioned. Not these guys — the finale of season 3 was wonderful. Here’s a trailer for the first series.
When Series 4 arrived, I dived into it and loved it just as much. Even though series #3 felt complete, this final series truly completed the story. If you decide to watch Call My Agent, I strongly recommend you begin with the first series.
Have you watched any of these shows? Recommend others? Do you get to watch many foreign TV shows or movies? Do you prefer subtitles or dubbing? And are you a binge watcher or not?