martes, 6 de diciembre de 2011

A Cultural Desert

Yayne, Mr Rochester intones softly and pulls the lady in question, Ms Eyre, close to him.
I groan inwardly. I must be mad watching this. It’s not that this most recent cinema version* of Charlotte Brontë’s classic work is unworthy of my praise, because that’s not true, it’s just that yet another foreign language film at my local cinema has been dubbed. All my instincts scream sacrilege. Maybe Michael Fassbender, as the intriguing Mr. Rochester, fulfils all the requisites of the dark, tormented north country character that Brontë meant to him to be. But I just don’t know. Speaking a language entirely foreign to him, and in a voice that is not his own, undermines the power of the actor’s performance.
Last week I watched Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet become rage and hatred incarnate in Roman Polanski’s screen version of Yasmina Reza’s play, Carnage. Yet the words coming out of their mouths didn’t quite match the contortions of their faces. The actors’ performances, the emotions reflected, were not fully conveyed in the translation or in the somewhat detached intonation of the dubbed voices.  With this mismatch it seemed at times that the characters were engaging in histrionics. What were they so upset about? What am I so upset about? I suspect I feel cheated when Kate Winslet screeches in Spanish in a voice belonging to some faceless dubbing artist. I leave the cinema muttering blasphemy and determined to seek out the original version of Carnage. That won’t be easy in Tarragona. This far into my stay, three months, I have managed to see only one original version film: a Spanish language production.
This is how I spend my Saturday nights. I faithfully troop out to the cinema because it’s either a dubbed film or nothing at all, and nothing at all is not a choice; not for me anyway. I take the Number 97 from Tarragona city centre along the motorway and out into the back of beyond, to one of the most hideous examples of modernity, of consumerism, that I have ever seen: Les Gavarres.
Les Gavarres, a commercial zone, is surrounded by scrubland, complete with tumbleweeds and scorched earth. It is nothing other than a vast area dotted with gigantic Lego-style buildings that operate as shops, mega-size shops. Sports gear, furniture, cars, clothes, toys, Chinese imports, food, you name it, is sold here. Often, too often, the premises are so far apart that customers without a car cannot move easily from one venue to the next. Planning and perhaps even planning permission, if either exists that is, took no account of aesthetics or practicalities in Les Gavarres.
As my bus approaches, I peer out at the neon lights blinking through the darkness. My reflection is blotted by fast food joints, Burger King, Buffalo Grill, Foster’s Hollywood; their names emblazoned in in-your-face letters that compete for attention with the chains of recently hung Christmas lights. To the fore stands a brightly lit four-metre-high cone which operates as a Christmas tree. Anything natural, authentic, would look out of place in this scenario. And indeed, a few saplings planted along the pavement are wizened and sickly, the soul sucked out of them before their time.
Droves of young people descend from the bus with me. It’s eight o’clock and many are going shopping. They are joining thousands of others who, judging by the traffic jams leading into the car parks, are already indulging in Consumerism. There are queues everywhere, all year round. In the weeks prior to Christmas the lines are much longer and tempers much shorter. To kill time before the start of my film, I wander into MediaMarkt and immediately wish I hadn’t. The place is overwhelming in its vastness and I acknowledge that I haven’t the patience to seek out what I need among the labyrinth of aisles. No sales assistants are visible; the only uniformed personnel I spot are cashiers facing a wall of customers or walkie-talkied security guards eyeing loners like myself. Loudspeakers bombard me with price slashing offers at motion-sickness speed. I slink out.
Four lanes of human beings are jostling for position at the cinema. Tickets are dispatched from behind what seems to be bullet-proof glass. The cashier clarifies my request through a microphone with a volume that undulates, coming and going so that I only catch every fourth word. I am in row ? and seat number ? Exasperated and none the wiser, I smile, grasp my ticket and hurry off in the direction of the next set of queues.
The overriding feeling on my Saturday night trips to the cinema is one of alienation. I cannot relate to these surroundings but neither can any of my Catalan friends. “Vulgar” is the term one person uses to describe the complex. Another, a psychologist, refers to her “Les Gavarres experience” as dystonic, inconsistent with her character. “A necessary evil” is the kindest comment I have heard. Necessary, precisely because there are no other cinemas around, which is surprising given that Tarragona is a university city with a population of almost 150,000; significantly higher if you include residents of the nearby towns and villages.
My complaints about the lack of choice in cinema have fallen on sympathetic ears. A friend of a friend suggested I check out the Antiga Audiencia, where the city council offers world cinema sessions in original version with subtitles. I did and the security guard informed me – somewhat apologetically – that no further sessions are planned due to cutbacks. That’s the end of the line for me.
For the foreseeable future I am doomed to join the Saturday night throngs at Les Gavarres, to sit on the bus and listen to teenagers practice their English with each other and then follow them in through the crowds to watch dubbed films. I’ll continue to kid myself that I might justify the excursion as “a listening comprehension,” an opportunity to further my grasp of the language. How much tighter can my grasp get after thirteen years of living in Spanish-speaking countries? In the cinema at Les Gavarres I choke on it.

* By director Cary Fukunaga

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