Following up on the last post about the mistranslation of film titles (and sometimes dialogue), I would like to focus on a recent and not very well-known case, The Wackness (2008), to provide a more detailed analysis of this curious phenomenon.
Let’s start, obviously, from the title, which became Fa’ la cosa sbagliata – Do The Wrong Thing – clearly drawing on Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do The Right Thing. Now, words like “wackness” are a translator’s sweetest challenge and worst nightmare, as sometimes so much gets lost in the translation of slang that massive reworking is required. Anyway, this term comes up in a conversation where the main character is more or less defined by the girl he likes, who tells him
“Know what your problem is, Shapiro? It’s that you just have this really shitty way of looking at things, ya know? I don’t have that problem. I just look at the dopeness. But you, it’s like you just look at the wackness, ya know?”
which in the Italian translation became
“Sai qual è il tuo problema Shapiro? È che tu hai davvero un modo del cazzo di guardare alle cose, capisci? Io non ho quel problema, io vedo solo lo sballo… mentre tu vedi solo l’aspetto negativo… mi spiego?”
If you understand some Italian, you’ll notice how the passage’s register was sensibly altered by the translator, who appears to have ignored the slangy, youthful quality of the original, throwing in a very out-of-context “Sballo” which means “getting high”, and is not really suited to translate “dopeness”. Not to mention that “the wackness” became an unbelievably dull “negative aspect” without even an attempt at finding a decent solution. One could have tried something like
“Sai qual è il tuo problema Shapiro? È che hai proprio ‘sto modo del cazzo di vedere le cose, capisci? Io non ce l’ho quel problema, io vedo solo i pregi… Ma tu, è come se vedessi solo gli scazzi… capisci?”
Please forgive my unsolicited – and still not satisfactory – translation, but the point is, one has to reproduce not just the meaning, but the tone, the style, the vague but nonetheless important spirit of the original. Create in the audience of the translated work the closest possible impressions to the ones the original produced in its own audience.
Moreover, this sentence is pivotal in the characterisation of the protagonist, it only makes sense that it becomes the title. And even if didn’t, that was the authors’ choice. The Italian title, though, is a distortion of a line Ben Kingsley’s character says:
Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong thing, and right now is one of those times
Sure, under the original title there’s a small comment that reads “Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong things”. The quote, calling Spike Lee’s movie to mind, was already there, but it was discreet, and marginal. Not to mention that the imperative “Do the wrong thing” is nowhere to be heard in the movie. In my opinion, this approach is offensive to authors and spectators alike. At least to the serious ones.
A little aside, on the original poster the title was in beautiful and fitting wild style graffiti, while in the Italian version it was written in a rather bland and nondescript font. So much for fidelity.