How do you translate a movie title? Since nearly all the movies popular in the United States are also shown worldwide regardless of the local language, it's a problem that someone must be dealing with. But it's not always straightforward, since word plays and idioms don't always translate easily.
A look at the nominees for best picture at this weekend's Academy Awards and how they're titled in Spanish-speaking countries shows some of the approaches that can be taken:
- The easiest thing to do is not to translate as all. And for two of the nominees there's no reason to translate. Lincoln and Argo keep their original titles in Spanish.
- In what may be a first, two of the nominees use their French titles in English-speaking countries: Amour (love) and Les Misérables (the miserable ones). In Spanish, the cognates, very similar to the French, are used: Amor and Los miserables. (Note that in Spanish, movie titles are not capitalized in normal written text beyond the first word unless the word would be capitalized in a sentence.)
- Two of the movie titles are translated word for word: The Life of Pi becomes La vida de Pi, and Django Unchained becomes Django desencadenado.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild is translated thought for thought rather than word for word, becoming Bestias del sur salvaje. There's not really a good Spanish noun to translate to the noun "wild" (the phrase tierra salvaje probably comes closest), so "the southern wild" becomes "the wild south."
- There's undoubtedly something lost in the translation of Zero Dark Thirty, which becomes La noche más oscura (the darkest night). The English title comes from military slang referring to the early morning before light appears.
- Finally, the title Silver Linings Playbook, which packs quite a bit of imagery into its three words, becomes the relatively trite El lado bueno de las cosas (the good side of things). While the proverb "Cada nube tiene un revestimiento de plata" (every cloud has a coating of silver) is sometimes used in Spanish, it isn't all that common.