In France, dubious subtitles are a thing of the past. Nowadays it is dubbing, or le doublage as it is known here, that brings Anglophone films to Francophone audiences. Thanks to a very insightful article I read recently, I now know a lot more about the art form that is dubbing.
Anglophone films and series make up 40 percent of what is shown on French television. What’s more, that percentage would be even higher if it wasn’t capped by French law. It is therefore no surprise that dubbing is considered a highly skilful line of work and that, far from constituting simple voice overs, it is a career pursued by experienced and highly esteemed actors.
Unlike their A list counterparts, French dub artists may be able to walk down the street without attracting unwanted attention. However, they are by no means lacking identity. More often than not they are ‘cast’ as Anglophone actors, for whom they dub each and every film. There is a French Sylvester Stallone, a French Morgan Freeman and a French Jennifer Lawrence, while the same actor has been dubbing Daniel Radcliffe since The Philosopher’s Stone.
That French actors are assigned and stick to specific Anglophone stars is an essential aspect of the dubbing industry. For example, about a decade ago the French Tom Cruise was replaced because he smoked too much (never!) and his voice was getting too croaky. This did not go down well with French audiences, who noticed the change.
Not only is the casting of French dubsters crucial, translating the scripts they use is a highly skilful and incredibly meticulous process. French writers must go through each and every sentence of the original script, in order to produce a translation that is both close in meaning and as similar as possible in terms of length. This ensures the dubbing remains in sync with the lip movements of on-screen actors.
French is a lovely, elegant language. But in the dubbing world, its tendency to beat around the bush can throw up difficulties when compared to straight-to-the-point English. Translating comedy can also be problematic- especially when it comes to British English, which is so partial to wordplay. I’m fairly sure the Two Ronnie sketches have never been dubbed, but just imagine trying to translate ‘Fork Handles’ into another language…
If you’re keen to find out more about the French dubbing industry- including what French Jennifer Lawrence makes of French Bradley Cooper, why black stars’ roles often go to white French actors and how French dubbing has been affected by the arrival of Netflix-, I strongly suggest you read the original article.