Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Auto-translating "La Madrastra"

Daytime TV in Georgia consists almost entirely of telenovela imports, dubbed over in what is obviously one take by an acting team made up of one woman and one man. The dubbing doesn't replace the original soundtrack (it's easier than rerecording the music and effects), just talks over it, so I can still make out the Spanish, barely.

My office mate is responsible for producing a digest of television and print news for the president, so he has the TV on all day long. This is how I've fallen in love with a Latin American telenovela called "La Madrastra" ("The Stepmother") and, more specifically, its heroine, played by glorious Victoria Ruffo.

Don't fuck with La Madrastra.

I've watched this out of the corner of my eye for the past eight weeks, and finally, unable to stand not knowing what the fuck is going on, went in search of an online synopsis.

First of all, I learn that telenovelas are commonly remakes of early versions. Apparently they play a role for women like sports plays for men: a boy can talk to his father about the same team that his father once followed, and a girl can talk to her mother about the same drama that her mother once followed, in each case with updated uniforms and soundtracks. "La Madrastra" is a remake of the 1996 telenovela "Para toda la vida", which itself is a remake of 1989's "Vivir un poco", which is a remake of the original 1981 "La Madrastra".

As for the plot, thanks to Google's translator and alma-latina.net, "the biggest Mexican telenovelas database", I learn the following:

A terrible tragedy ends the trip of pleasing of a group of friends. Maria hears a firing, finds her dead Patricia friend and, in his confusion, imprudently she gathers the weapon. Maria is blamed of the murder and the condemned to life imprisonment. His husband Esteban, an important businessman, does not believe in his innocence; one divorces of her when returning to Mexico, he buys the silence of those who went with them to the trip, and says to his children who her mother died in an accident.

Twenty years later, Maria is set free by good behavior and returns to Mexico in search of revenge. She is determined to discover the true culprit and to face Esteban. But what she wishes more she is to recover his two children, H├ęctor and Star. All are surprised when seeing it to enter, and Maria seeds in them the doubt and the fear when informing to them that, during twenty years, the true assassin of Patricia has lived among them.

Maria returns to marry with Esteban to recover affection of his children, but this not him will be easy, since their children consider one madrastra that has come to usurp the place of a died mother to which they adore by means of the picture of another woman.

Little by little, Maria is gained the love of her children without revealing the true bow that unites them and her husband falls again in love with her. But now she must choose between to tell her kids the truth and to have the family she always wanted or to find the real killer of her friend.

I love this woman.

Okay, what the fuck!? Is that not the most compelling setup you've ever heard? Since I read that, I've been staring at each character, who is usually crying and shouting in both Spanish and Georgian, speculating about which character he is, and what is the source of his angst. "That must be her son, learning that she is his mother," I will decide. "She is crying because she has held the truth back so long-- just so that she can see him grow!" Then they start to have sex and I realize I was probably wrong.

Apparently, the finale involves a simultaneous wedding
of no fewer than four couples.

Google's translation also provides me the following comments from Spanish-speaking visitors to the alma-latina website about their love for "La Madrastra":

1) I from Chile hope that the soap opera manages to hit so much as 'aqui' did in ours pais. the teleserie was an absolute fenomeno, I even superswim the 80 points of rating. all pais asked myself who killed patricia... espeoro with anxieties.

2) I want to offer MY RESPECT to Mrs. Victoria Ruffo to have accepted this role, specially because today in day the mature actresses are put under 40 cirugias to be able to play roles jovenes and the truth sees ridiculas enough.

("Sees" for "seems"--an unlikely holdover from the Spanish, "la verdad se ven".)

To shift gear, isn't there something wonderful about these poor translations? I try not to enjoy them because, I tell myself, they were not really written, but merely assembled by accident. But there is something sublime about the way the hasty original Spanish mixes with the auto-translation mistakes, almost like they were made on purpose, in just the right clumsy combinations.

I feel the same thing from the text of some spam I receive, which contains automatically generated phrases and words designed to fool my spam filters. Allow me to present direct quotes of spam emails I have received, adulterated only to provide line breaks and spacing:

"Last chance for lowest rates" by "Esmerelda Dunlap"

but luminescent!
stephanie
the stephens
may celibacy be

moscow
and melbourne
in offshore

may irs it
lifelike
and chute a
leasehold,
tonal a flux
on tuition.


"Lowest rate approved" by "Vera Fischer"

a mast

some lager,

vociferous
some antiquity on
chagrin
but gouda

a errantry try charles
it millet not

despise not
protrusion,
brine or eerie

it's requited

Or maybe not