Watermelons, margoulins and wild horse: the improbable French version of Dirty Dancing

Watermelons, margoulins and wild horse: the improbable French version of Dirty Dancing

Well no, Baby doesn’t say “You don’t need to chase the world after your destiny like a wild horse” in the original version.

Dirty Dancing returns this evening on TF1. A guaranteed success for the channel, as the romance between Jennifer Gray and him is cult! During the summer of 2019, the feature film also made the cover of issue 8 of Première Classics, the mook which tells “the little history of great films”. Over no less than 20 pages, it tells in detail how the broke bluette became a surprise blockbuster, then a cult film. The article returns in particular to the incredible French version of the film, which proves like few others that “to translate is to betray”. Extract :

Dirty Dancing although it may be as cult in the United States as in France, it is not quite on the same terms. If you come across an American friend who is a fan of the film, don’t you dare try to translate Baby’s legendary advice to Johnny Castle, “ You don’t need to chase the world after your destiny like a wild horse. “Uh…” Stop running after your destiny like a wild horse » ? He wouldn’t understand anything, and that would be normal: in the original version of the film, Baby is content with a simple “ It doesn’t have to be that way » (“ It doesn’t have to be like this “). And she says it with the voice of Jennifer Grey, much more mature and assertive, less “baby”, than that of her voice actress Virginie Ledieu.

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Incredible but true: almost all of the anthological lines in the film are in reality pure inventions of the French translators, made even more memorable by the intonations of the actors, who “exaggerate” the original intentions. When Baby’s father, Mr. Houseman, returns in the night after helping Penny and discovers his daughter’s made-up face, actor Jerry Orbach, originally, wearily orders: ” I don’t want you to hang out with these people anymore. And get that thing off your face before your mom sees you. » (“I don’t want you to have anything to do with these people again. And take that stuff off your face before your mother sees you. “). In French, it’s more brutal: “ I don’t want to see you hanging out with this bunch of creeps anymore. And take that disgusting makeup off your face, you look like a whore. »

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It was the 80s, another era, when the French had fun diverting and “pimping” a foreign material considered low-end. A time when we reinvented the dialogues of Nicky Larson before its broadcast at Club Dorothée and where the VF of American series like Magnum Or Starsky and Hutch became playgrounds for wild voice actors, twisting the original text to suit their mood. A practice impossible today but which was commonplace then. The author of the VF of Dirty DancingHenry-Paul Steimen, claimed his freedom of invention: “ I chose to introduce a little second degree so as not to fall into the insipid blues. A film adaptation is not a literal translation. It’s a spectacle. »

A precept which obviously did not apply to the films of Scorsese or Fellini… But in the case of a consumer product like Dirty Dancing, it was okay… Playing today the little game of differences, it’s hard not to notice that the French version seriously distorts the initial point, making the heroine appear more stupid than she actually is. When Baby blushes after telling Johnny “ I helped him carry the watermelons ”, she repeats the sentence to herself (“ I carried a watermelon? “), as if to reproach himself for having had such a stupid reflection. In French it’s : ” It’s not a crime to wear watermelons ”, which makes no sense (but is funnier). The feminism of the film is completely lost along the way, Baby’s real first name, Frances (” As the first woman to enter government “, she explains, in reference to Roosevelt’s minister, Frances C. Perkins) becoming Frédérique – “ It can also be a guy’s name! », Enthuses the character, without us knowing very well why.

Should we therefore be offended? Paradoxically, this fanciful VF, although it excessively trivializes the film, has contributed to its lasting cult in our latitudes. Because they very often discovered it in the French version, fans of Dirty Dancing refuse to see it in original version anyway. And the main thing is except: “ Nobody puts Baby in a corner » was such a powerful line that even the smart guys at the VF couldn’t come up with anything better.

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