Tragicomic film translations

a mulher que morreu duas vezes“Vertigo”, the Hitchcock masterpiece with James Stuart and Kim Novak, had its title translated as “A Mulher que Viveu Duas Vezes” (The Woman that Lived Twice) in Portugal – a massive, humongous spoiler. Also, I heard more than once that Portuguese christened “Psycho”, another Hitchcock’s, as “O Assassino era a Mãe” (The Killer was the Mother), an even worse spoiler, but I suspect this one is pure urban legend.

Ah, the bizarre mistranslations cinephiles have to endure!  These are my two favorites:

  • At some point, in the Spanish version o “Pixote”, the 1980s Brazilian classic about homeless kids, someone says that one of the children’s mom lives “en la sombrereria” (a literal translation of “na casa do chapéu“, an expression that means “really, really far away” in Portuguese). So, the translator understood that the lady lived in a hat shop. Later, in the same movie, a transvestite boy asks the main character if he thinks they might have a better future. In the original, Pixote says, no, we are doomed, while in the subtitles he says something like: “sure, Lilica, I am sure we will have a bright future”. This one was certainly a volontary mistranslation that intended to give the scene a more cheerful tone.
  • In the Brazilian translation of “Au Revoir les Enfants”, by Louis Malle, a war story where a Jewish boy hides in a French boarding school, another kid offers him a ham sandwich which the Jewish boy refuses. “Jambon” (ham in French) was translated as “geléia” (jam), destroying the logic of the scene.

And here is a little list of less than perfect title translations for your delight:
  • “Meet the Spartans” – “Espartalhões” (untranslatable. It is a crossing of Spartans and goofy)
  • “Teen Wolf” – “O Garoto do Futuro” (The Future Boy). The explanation: the title is a reference to the movie that made famous to this film’s main actor, Michael J. Fox”The Time Traveler´s Wife” – “Te Amarei para Sempre” (I will love you forever)
  • “Epic Movie” – “Deu a Louca em Hollywood” (Hollywood got crazy)
  • Valentine´s Day” – “Idas e Vindas do Amor” (something like “the ups and downs of love”)
  • “Annie Hall” – “Noivo Neurótico, Noiva Nervosa” (Neurotic Bridegroom, Nervous Bride)
  • “Down by Law” (1986) – “Daunbailó”. A creative but controversial translation. Of course, Daunbailó means nothing in Portuguese.
  • “The Godfather” – “O Poderoso Chefão” (Powerful Big Boss)
  • “Cast Away” (2000) – “Náufrago” (Shipwrecked). This is a particularly incorrect one. Tom Hank’s plane crashes in a desert island. There is no ship involved.
  • “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” – “Pagando bem, que mal tem?”. (If it pays good money, no problem)
  • “Ugly Duckling and Me!” (2006) – “Putz! A Coisa tá Feia” (Darn! Things are Ugly). Oh Lord, this is a really dramatic one. It uses a 70s slang (Putz), that nobody under 40 would even know.
  • “27 Dresses” – “Vestida para Casar” (Dressed to Marry, which, in Portuguese, rhymes with Dressed to Kill)

Any other suggestions?



6 thoughts on “Tragicomic film translations”

  1. Just a few notes:

    – Psycho was “Psico” in Portugal – easy to check (

    – Garoto do Futuro was named after “Back to the Future” because both flicks had the same actor — Michael J. Fox. The Time Traveler’s Wife came 15 years later!

    – Why the prejudice against Portuguese? Why comment Portuguese titles in a blog about Brazil?

  2. Not fair, Regina, I still say “putz” and I’m under 40’s! hahahaha… The Goodfather kills me everytime I see the book on my shelve. I’d add To Kill a Mockingbird. The book and consequently the movie is translated as “O Sol é Para Todos” (The sun is for everyone). I can understand the motive but I still think the original idea is far more interesting. 50th First Date also sounds better in English that our brazilian “Como se fosse a primeira vez” (As if it was the first time).

  3. Casa do chapéu = sombrereria é bom demais. Tô rolando de rir aqui em casa. Os títulos de filmes que inventam aqui superam qualquer dom criativo existente. Adorei o texto! Beijoca.

  4. Alan, indeed, some movies seem to have different title translations (one for the theaters, one for TV, for instance). But, as I pointed out right in the first paragraph, the bad Psycho translation seems to be an urban legend, maybe out of prejudice.
    Portugal was essential to Brazilian formation. It is not possible to understand one without knowing the other. In fact, I think I should increase dramatically the space dedicated to Portuguese topics. You will find a few already, such as one that shows how samples of Portuguese architecture seen in Brazil can be spotted in other parts of the world.

  5. I think, Gisele, there is an effort to make Brazilian titles blander and more commercial. But also, as a translator, I know how tough it is to be minimally faithful to the original in this arena.

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