Why do Italians watch movies in Italian only?

Dubbing movies in Italy is systematic. Why is that and are there potential implications for this?

Author:

Valeria Ferraretto
for: Italics Magazine
Photo: Jerry Wang.

The first time I realized that Italians love watching movies in Italian only, I was abroad, in particular in Belgium. A friend of mine told me that some movie theaters in Brussels offered movies in English, with French or Dutch subtitles. I was deeply impressed, as I would have never imagined going to the cinema to watch movies in their original language, even if it now sounds so obvious. I was trying to improve my French and watched some movies on my laptop in French, to then switch to TV series in English (much easier to find), but everything was limited to my bedroom, my little safe corner in a foreign city.

In Italy, only a few theaters in big cities offer movies in their original language. I am pretty sure that a high percentage of the Italian population has never watched a movie in a language other than Italian — I doubt data on this issue are available, but this is the feeling anedotely — or even knows movie titles in their original language. For the Italian public, Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, a famous movie from 2004 with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, is  Se mi lasci ti cancello  (If you leave me, I will erase you), while Hitchcock’s  Vertigo  became  La donna che visse due volte  (The woman who lived twice). Are we sure we are even watching the same movies? To understand the reasons behind this cultural phenomenon, we have to go back to the 1930s.

Bringing foreign movies to the Italian public

The first attempt to dub an American movie, at least the most popular ones, happened in 1929, when the Italian-American actor Augusto Galli was asked to record an audio track in Italian for a scene of the movie Married in Hollywood. The result was disappointing as the audio track overlapped instead of replacing the original one, but it paved the way for the development of the dubbing technique. In that period, Italian emigrants in the United States were recruited by American studios to dub American movies, to then send them to the Italian public.

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The first time I realized that Italians love watching movies in Italian only, I was abroad, in particular in Belgium. A friend of mine told me that some movie theaters in Brussels offered movies in English, with French or Dutch subtitles. I was deeply impressed, as I would have never imagined going to the cinema to watch movies in their original language, even if it now sounds so obvious.

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