Subtitler and cinephile Jean-Pierre Thilges “in character” at Chaplin’s World in Vevey, Switzerland.
Photo: JP Thilges
The open-air cinema screening of box-office smash “Superjhemp Retörns” is a chance to catch the film with English subtitles. Delano spoke to the man responsible, Jean-Pierre Thilges.
Even if you have mastered the local language, watching Félix Koch’s “Superjhemp Retörns” is going to leave anyone who did not grow up in Luxembourg scratching their heads at some of the dialogue. Cultural references, Luxembourg idioms and the witty names of characters--both familiar from the “Superjhemp” comic books and new to the canon--will cause perplexion among non-natives.
Which is where another super Jhemp comes in: Jean-Pierre Thilges has been subtitling films from Luxembourgish into French and English for several years and says that “Superjhemp Retörns” was one of the most challenging, but also most fun, projects he has worked on.
“Some things are impossible,” says Thilges. For instance, when Superjhemp’s alter ego Charel Kuddel gets upset he exclaims “poznenneö”, which is Öennenzop (onion soup) spelled backwards. “In French I used chouxpausou, which is a play on soupe aux choux [cabbage soup], which people got. But in English if I used ‘onion soup’ back to front it wouldn’t work. So, I came up with ‘fustercluck’.”
Characters had to be renamed, so for instance two news presenters are called Tom Anchor and Tania Offtopic, and the subtitle for a road sign for a fictitious village whose name in English would be “I’ve never had belly ache” simply reads “lost in translation”.
He thinks there is a real demand among local English speakers to see the film--a digital release with English subtitles is scheduled in time for Christmas.
A cinephile who collects films and memorabilia--he has over 10,000 on DVD and Blu-Ray as well as several shelves of Laserdiscs that are rapidly fading in quality--Thilges was a well-known cinema critic who wrote for the daily Tageblatt and the weekly Revue. He was also previously a co-founder of the Utopia group of cinemas (which has since been taken over by Kinepolis). He currently has his own company, Hatari, and a blog dedicated to film, with roundups of new releases in Luxembourg.
Over 50 films
He got into subtitling “out of sheer boredom”, he jokes. In 2010 when the Tageblatt and Revue, rather abruptly, told him his services were no longer required, he decided to retire--“I had done my 40 years,” he explains. But he wanted to find something that would keep his brain “floating”, as he puts it. He found industry standard software that was accessible, and his love of languages, which derives from the movies, allowed him to translate and do subtitling in Luxembourgish, English, French and German. The software also means he can format in up to 30 different styles, depending on the demands of the production company or director.
He has now translated and subtitled well over 50 movies as well as TV series and commercials--the latest is for “Anne’s Kitchen”. “But the most rewarding job I had, not financially, because you don’t earn much doing this, was subtitling “The Simpsons”. I could really adapt it into Luxembourgish, while leaving the main characters alone.”
As for the most challenging job apart from Superjhemp, that was probably Terence Davies’ “Sunset Song”, co-produced by Luxembourg outfit Iris Productions. “They wanted me to translate the Scottish songs, and some even Gaelic, into French. With rhyming where possible.”
His new metier also allows Thilges to see films well in advance of anybody else--but he refuses to talk about any film before its official release. He reckons he saw “Superjhemp Retörns” before anyone apart from the director and producer.
He likes to use subtitles over two lines where possible, but sometimes is pulled up by clients who want shorter, or very occasionally longer, text on the screen. As a cinephile, Thilges clearly takes pride in his work, but he abhors Netflix’s subtitling. “It’s like they’ve run it through Google translate,” he says.
“Superjhemp Retörns” is being screened on Monday 29 July at 9 p.m. as part of the City Open-Air Cinema With Orange season outside the grand-ducal palace. Entrance is free, but seats are taken on a first-come, first-served basis.