Took myself off to Brixton’s Ritzy cinema yesterday for the second instalment of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. As per last time, right up until the opening sequence rolled, it was just me and my choice of Swedish-themed snack alone in the room (last time it was smoked mackerel and cucumber pickle on rye bread; this time chilled cucumber and yoghurt soup – I must post the recipe). However, the discerning South London public trickled in – a father and son, a mother and perhaps her son (I hadn’t had it down as a family movie but perhaps they’d already seen Scott Pilgrim vs The World) and two teenage girls, whose presence both a tad surprised but also somewhat reassured me that the youth of today would choose the Swedish version over the soon-to-be-rubbish American version.
Hey-ho: the film started rolling and it was only when it was perhaps a good five minutes in that it dawned on any of us that we hadn’t magically been converted to fluent Swedish speakers by a secret mind-boring laser projected from the screen, but in fact they had inserted the Swedish-only version of the film without the subtitles. I have to say at this point, I was quite happy trying to deduce what was going on using body language cues, the odd glimmer of recognition when the Swedish was similar to German and leaving the rest to a mixture of memory and imagination. I’m not sure it wouldn’t have gotten a little wearing after a while but as a cerebral experiment I was prepared to give it a go.
Anyway, up gets the older man and turns to the back of the room and yells up ‘This is what they did last time – used the wrong film without the subtitles. Oy – change the film.’ (Just take a moment to ponder the size of the Swedish-speaking demographic in Brixton that would result in the cinema managers actually deciding it would be good to hold a copy of an unsubtitled version. Just in case…)
There’s much British murmuring at this – agreement combined with a certain wariness at his forthrightness at demanding what may be a more satisfactory outcome for the paying customer – and then one of the teenage girls had a lightbulb moment: ‘Hang on’, she said ‘Do you mean there’s meant to be, like, language, up on screen and stuff?’
The guy looks at her (in my head it’s a gimlet stare) and replies ‘Unless you speak Swedish.’ I chimed in (because I do like to contribute) ‘Because we’re all fluent…’ She looks unsure. You can sense she’s struggling with some fundamental flaw in our argument. ‘But, like, d’you mean you have to, like, watch and read at the same time?’ Again with the gimlet stare. ‘Yes that’s the general idea of subtitles.’ Huge sigh. ‘But I might as well just read the books.’
At this point I realise that all of us are struggling with the desire to turn around and goggle at them for one or all of the following reasons: there are actually two people in the world who have not read the books (myself speaking as a former bookseller); who don’t have a clue what the films are about; or that they are not yet released in English. (And at this point I’d like to give you another point to ponder – these two girls have wandered into a Swedish language film, the second of a trilogy, of their own volition and pocket but clearly without any idea of what they were seeing, despite the publicity surrounding both the books and the films.)
There’s much whispered discussion amongst them both. Clearly to ‘watch and read’ might be a multi-task too far. I silently gave them five minutes of re-booted film before they walked, blighting my initial favourable impression. They lasted three. But the film was jolly good.