Why It’s Occasionally Necessary to Watch the Dubbed Version of a Movie – The Case of Defiance

While I will write a proper review about the US movie Defiance, starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, in a day or two, I feel like writing about fake accents here because that is something that bothered me while trying to watch the movie.

Nothing drives me up the wall like fake accents or illogical accents. And no matter how much some people try to convince me that it’s not important, it is. I’m a linguist and a translator. Languages are important to me. If it isn’t important to you, that’s fine, but some will feel like me, I’m sure.

If a Russian speaks English with a Russian accent I’m pretty sure I may think this is cute but if an American or British actor speaks English with a Polish accent for no other reason than some illogical attempt at authenticity, then it’s not cute. The movie Defiance was one of those bad examples. I tried watching it three times, every time I gave up after half an hour and had to stop it. Yesterday, on the fourth attempt, I remembered that I had a German DVD. While dubbed movies are something I truly do not like, it was blissful to change to the German version. All of the actors were just speaking German and although Russians and Poles would hardly speak German in real life (in their own country among their fellow country men!), they most certainly would not speak English with a Russian or Polish accent. Now I see that this is an attempt of authenticity, but for me it’s plain silly.

While I was thinking about this, I remberered the wonderful Cate Blanchett in The Man Who Cried and that her Russian accent didn’t bother me at all. On the very contrary, I found it admirably well done. So why did Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber annoy me, while Cate Blanchett didn’t? Because Cate Blanchett plays a Russian who meets English-speaking people and it’s logical, or possible that she should have an accent, while it isn’t logical that Daniel Craig’s characters traipses around the Russian forest speaking English with his brother and on top of that with an accent.

To make me prefer a dubbed version it takes a lot. Two other movies which improved greatly in their dubbed versions were Memoirs of a Geisha and Frida. I’m not sure which one wound me up the most but I think the prize has to go to Frida.

I’m aware that watching a dubbed version isn’t an option for native speakers of English. I’m sorry for that.

Whether I liked Defiance in the end and what it is all about will be the topic of my next post.

What do you think of accents and dubbing in general?

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22 thoughts on “Why It’s Occasionally Necessary to Watch the Dubbed Version of a Movie – The Case of Defiance

  1. It doesn’t make it impossible for me to enjoy a movie, but it does get annoying. I found it especially annoying in Valkyrie, with the British actors playing Germans and speaking with British accents and Tom Cruise playing a German speaking with an American accent. It doesn’t bother me if they are non-English speaking characters with actors speaking accented English, provided they get the accent right. I can sort of assume that the characters wouldn’t be speaking English. I totally understand what you’re saying, though!

    • I’m not so sure they got the accents right. For me it felt like a parody, like people imitating people with a Polish or Russian accents. I really had to switch to the German. I’ve nseen movies in which it was done and it didn’t bother me so much.
      I didn’t notice it in Valkyrie, that’s odd. I’m going to watch it again as I haven’t reviewed it. There is an older movie in which too people escape from a POW camp and pretend to be Germans and the Germans don’t notice it. It made me laugh, the accents were so heavy.

      • I tend to only notice when the accents are really bad. I watched Defiance too long ago to remember how the accents sounded. You’d think, especially with the big-budget movies, that they’d be able to make sure they get the accents right!

      • It just didn’t sound right. Too heavy. A little bit of a flavour would have been OK. I even had the feeling that there accents were not the same.
        Reminds me of Swiss TV productions. Some family sitcoms in which actually every family member has another accent becaus the actors come from different regions. It’s hilarious. Imagine, some US sitcom with one brother sounding like he was from the Deep South, the other from New York and the third from Texas.

      • I think that’s what made me really respect Inglorious Bastards. Quentin Tarantino wanted actors who spoke the language of his characters. That movie felt really authentic to me in that respect.

      • I agree. It’s better to choose German actors for the German parts.

  2. Azevedo says:

    I saw Defiance when it came out and I didn’t pay much attention to the accents. I still don’t envision a movie in which the accents are so bad that make me want to watch the dubbed version instead! I don’t even like watching dubbed animation movies.
    I live next to Spain, and in that country it’s common practice to dub every movie! I don’t think I would go to the movies a single time over there.
    There’s just something about watching the lips move of sync with the sound that annoys me!

    • I completely agree with you on that. I live next to Germany, so to speak, and all they offer in the cinema is dubbed movies. In Switzerland that does not exist. There the movies have French and German subtitles at the same time. In Paris you have the choice, either you watch the orginla with subtitles or the dubbed on. That’s another story. I had to switch in this case because it distracted me too much. In general I really hate dubbed movies. An actor’s voice is part of his success. Some languages work better than others. An English movie dubbed in French is horrible but in German it’s not so bad.

  3. oveeja says:

    I have had a similar discussion with my father various times. What we talked about was how in all movies about ancient Rome, everybody has an English accent just to make them sound foreign to the great majority of English speakers. Except one which is The passion of the Christ in which everyone speaks what they should be speaking, which I think is an admirable effort from the director to keep it believable.

    This is also the reason why I wanted to watch Tintin in french but couldn’t find it and ended up seeing it in Spanish cause that was the only option in the cinema :/

    @Anna
    Same thoughts on Inglourious Basterds. I was really glad that everyone spoke the way they were supposed to. I am serious when I say that letting actors who speak the language needed to play those parts is always the best option.

    • I didn’t notice that about the movies on ancient Rome, but come to think of it… That’s bad too but will not make me switch to the dubbed version, I think. The Passion of the Christ is amazing for this. I was really glad he chose to do it like that. I haven’t seen Tintin yet, not sure what the language/accent situation is there.
      I always pay attention whether they manage to cast people from the country or not. Maybe if you do not speak German you will not realize that an American with a German accent is speaking, I’m not sure. In low budget films it’s done regularly.
      I really don’t like dubbed but that’s the point I wanted to make, when I watch a dubbed version instead, the original was painful.

  4. Guy Savage says:

    I gave up on this one about half way through. I suppose I like Russians in films about Russia. Anything else just feels wrong. Plus in this one, it felt like some sort of camping trip more than anything else.

    • It’s a bit camping tripish but it is a true story and it does improve. I hated the accents big time. But maybe also because I found it slightly offensive. I liked it overall but it’s not “Go, run, get a copy!”

  5. warmoviebuff says:

    You already know my opinion on this. It makes no difference to me unless they are truly ridiculous. There are so many other things that can ruin a movie, poor accents are not high on my list. I am much more upset with defiance of reality than defiance of proper accents (no pun intended). You can watch a movie like “Army of Shadows” which has that ridiculous scene where he escapes from his execution and not be bothered with that and then praise the authentic French accents. I don’t get that. I insist what the characters do makes sense, not how they sound when they speak.

    • Now you are exaggerating, I’ wouldn’t like a movie just for the accents but the accents can ruin it. I’m quite familiar with Danile Craig to hera him with this accent made him sound dorky. Let’s make an example, you wouldn’t want to watch a great and authentic movie with a shaky handheld camera that cuts off half the picture, right? Film is the only art form that combines and talks to almost all of the senses. I do watch with my ears as well. No bad accents for me. If voices and sound were not important… many of the silent movie stars wouldn’t have lost their jobs after the transition.

  6. TBM says:

    I might have to check out this film to see if it annoys me.

  7. Novroz says:

    one very interesting post Caroline. I don’t like fake accent and I also don’t like dubbed movie…tough choice!!

    I haven’t watched defiance….but since I don’t know Polish, I might not mind much. But I do mind when I know the accent. Like Leo in blood diamond, he tries to speak in South African accent which is terrible as I have heard the original accent through SHarlto Copley.

    • Thanks Novroz, I garee that’s terribl as well. In this case it wasn’t the accen that was so bad but that it was so not logical. I leonardo di Caprio plays a South African it’s at least logical he should speak the accent. If he isn’t capable that’s another story. Brad Pitt’s accent in Snatch was great I thought.

  8. nem baj says:

    The thing is, movies about Europe are such a mess… what were they speaking in this place and time? Mainly Yiddish and Belarussian, some Polish, bits of Russian and German for some, depending on the situation. There is no way you can address this accurately in a movie made for a large audience. My guess is you have to address it dramatically… and that’s what the film does.

    Russian is used at some point in all the scenes where the Bielskis deal with either their non-Jewish neighbors or the Soviet partisans. Between themselves, Jewish characters always speak English (with a number of undefinable, though Eastern-European inspired, accents). Using Belarussian in the first instance and a clear Yiddish accent in the second would have been better, yet…

    The use of Russian illustrates the alienation of the group, while the use of English brings the characters closer to the audience. And my guess is the accent is meant to deliberately reinforce the characterization of the Bielski group as shtetl-Jews-who-kick-ass. As much as I understand your discomfort, these conventions seem clear, and make sense to me.

    • Caroline says:

      Yes, they do make sense but still . . . It makes me shudder every time. I don’t mind an accent, in real, life that is, but those fake accents, especially when I know the actor well – it’s too jarring for me.

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