Going to the Movies in Italy

12 Nov


If you’ve ever been to a movie here in Italy, then you’ve probably noticed a few unique traditions or customs that come along as part of the Italian movie-going experience. By now I’m used to them, and in fact most of them I actually have grown to like… but in the beginning, it took a bit of getting used to.

1. Doppiaggio (do-pee-AH-joe)

As you may know, most foreign movies shown in Italy aren’t shown in original language with subtitles, but are dubbed over. This is kind of a bummer if you’re an English speaker living here and don’t speak Italian, since most of the movies we’re talking about have English as their original language. (Granted, there are a few cinemas that show movies in English but I’m not going to touch on those today).

Most foreigners I know living here actually don’t like the dub-over effect, while most Italians I know adore it. One thing to know is that the same voice actor always dubs the same foreign actor. Here’s something I found while researching:

Films are dubbed so well and so consistently in Italy, that it is common for a single dubber to shadow the career of a foreign actor for years. For example, with your back turned to the screen, even if the film is in Italian, you know that Woody Allen is speaking, because his dubber is always Italian comic Oreste Lionello. As noted, however, some dubbers are well known as the voices of more than one actor. Emilio Cigoli does both John Wayne and Clark Gable, so you may actually have to turn around and look at the screen to find out if you’re watching Stagecoach or Gone With the Wind.

And just in case this conjures up images in your mind of poorly dubbed kung-fu movies, I have to say that surprisingly, the words and mouth movements are incredibly synchronized, to the point where you really almost forget that the movie is dubbed. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s pretty high quality.

I even have a little claim to fame in this area. Once when I was getting my hair cut, I was sitting at the sink next to Pino Insegno, who I vaguely recognized at the time as some comic or actor, but didn’t know his name. We got to chatting (he was super hyper and was “on” the entire time) and he told me that he dubs Will Farrell here in Italy.

Most Italians I’ve talked to have been disappointed if they’ve had the chance to hear the real voices of the original actors. That’s because the Italian voice actors are actually so good, that the movies are often better with the voice overs. I can personally attest to this… I bought the first season set of the HBO Rome mini-series, and started out watching it in English. Then Ale joined me and we switched over to Italian, and I didn’t want to go back to the English… I thought the acting improved when it was in Italian. Incredible but true.

2. Intervallo (een-tehr-VAHL-lo)

Or, what it must have been like to see Gone With the Wind in the cinema. In Italy, most cinemas still have an intermission about half-way through the movie. The funniest part to me, besides the fact that it was just odd having the lights come up half-way through the movie and people talking, etc., is that sometimes the place where they cut the movie off is literally right in the middle of someone’s line, or an important scene. It often seems like there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to where they decide to stick the intervallo. You’re into the movie, then, out of nowhere, it just stops and a big screen that says INTERVALLO comes up, the lights come on, and the person with you usually says something like, “Ti piace?” and you start talking about if you like the movie so far, etc. It usually lasts about five minutes.

At first I have to say that I thought the intervallo was a totally unneccessary interruption, but now I admit that I actually enjoy it. I like the ritual of turning to the people with me and discussing the movie so far. It can also make for a convenient bathroom break without having to come back and ask what you missed. So now, when I go to a cinema without an intervallo, I actually kind of miss it.

3. Assigned seating

I always get a kick out of this one when I go to Warner Village in Piazza Repubblica, one of the cinemas that shows movies in original language and is right downtown around a lot of hotels, thus has a lot of tourists. Watch their puzzled looks as they, comfortable in their seats, are confronted by other movie-goers who tell them “That’s my seat you’re in,” as if they were on an airplane.

Italian cinemas usually have assigned seating. I don’t really know why this is, especially given the fact that I’ve never been to a movie where the theater was full. And, strangely enough, despite the fact that here in Rome things like lane-lines on the roads and checkout lines in supermarkets go largely ignored, I have to say that at the cinema, people are pretty stuck on sitting exactly in their assigned seat. The worst part is when you get to the movie late and have to go searching around for the row letter and seat number in the dark.

4. Concessions stand

While a lot of cinemas have popcorn machines, there are also still quite a few here in Rome that sell pre-popped popcorn in bags, which I always thought was kind of funny. There isn’t usually a really wide range of candy, and with the exception of the Warner Village Cinemas, I’d say that portion sizes are still quite humble in comparison with their American cousins. The best part is when the man or woman comes into the theater during the intervallo with a box strapped around his or her neck, selling everything from bottles of Coke to bags of pre-popped popcorn and pre-packaged ice cream cones. Kind of like being at a sporting event.

5. Wednesday is discount day

I’m not sure if this is true throughout Italy, but I learned that in Rome, the movies are cheaper if you go on Wednesdays. I have no idea why, but it is so.

Right now the average price of a movie ticket here in Rome is about €7-€7.50 (the equivalent of $10 or $11 US). Some cinemas have reduced matinee pricing. On Wednesdays the price for all shows usually drops to around €5 or €5.50. I guess Wednesday must have been the slowest day for movies, so at some point in history the powers that be decided that they’d offer a mid-week discount.

6. Summer closures

While this is becoming less common (especially as US summer blockbusters are big money-makers), some cinemas still close for the summer for lack of A/C in the theaters. The nice flip side to this is that in Rome during the summer you can often catch lots of outdoor movie showings. My favorite outdoor cinema is on Tiber Island.

And, speaking of movies, the photo at the beginning of this post is from the movie “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” (also known simply as “Cinema Paradiso“), which won the Oscar in 1989 for best foreign-language film. If you’re in the mood for a great Italian movie, go out and rent that one, or one of my other favorites, Io Non Ho Paura (“I’m Not Scared“).

I know we’ve made a list of favorite Italian movies before, but any new entries to add? Do you have any Italian movie-going experiences to share?


19 Responses to “Going to the Movies in Italy”

  1. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy November 12, 2007 at 1:53 pm #

    You’re on NaBloPoMo fire! 🙂

    One of my favorite articles from “Chi” magazine (when I was teaching there, I don’t buy it!) was when they profiled some of the doppiaggiatori. I think they also had a problem when Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino are in the same movie because I think they have the same dubber.

    I think this is the only reason Keanu Reeves is popular in Italy – his dub actor is much better than he is!

  2. Deirdré Straughan November 12, 2007 at 2:11 pm #

    I find the dubbing distracting, not because it’s done badly, but because I worry about the original writers’ i ntent. When I don’t know the original English lines, I try to figure out what they were. When I do, I mentally criticize the translation. Some sort of deformazione professionale that I just can’t get past, so I usually see movies in English or not at all.

    However, there are some movies I liked in Italian and hated in English, such as “Robin Hood” (the Kevin Costner one – his “English” accent was so awful) and “The Age of Innocence” – when I started to watch it in English I discovered I don’t like Daniel Day-Lewis’ voice.

  3. Anna L'americana November 12, 2007 at 2:50 pm #

    Ahhhh, yess, doppiaggio! It should be noted that everything you said regarding movies and doppiaggio is also the same for TV in Italy (intervallos, actors, etc). In the 80’s, Magnum PI was the big prime time show on TV and I had only seen it on Italian TV, dubbed. The actor doing Tom Selleck’s voice has (or had?) a very deep macho voice. I had never heard Tom Selleck’s own voice until I was visiting the US and caught an episode on TV for the first time in the original language. With Tom’s own inimitable squeaky, whiny voice…That was it for me – no more Tom Selleck dreams!!! Shelley, see if you can find Tom Selleck dubbed in Italian and you will definately get a good laugh.

    I never experienced assigned seating of ANY kind in 20 years in Italy so that sounds new…Might be one of those things that someone saw in America in another context and brought back to Italy so badly translated that it doesn’t resemble the original concept (like the first Italian supermarkets, which were REALLY funny – Oh, if only we had blogging back in the day – there was some great material! But this is your blog, so we’ll leave it there).

  4. Andrea November 12, 2007 at 4:18 pm #

    That is simply amazing. I would love to do that! It sounds like it is like back in the 20’s where it was 10 cents for a movie and people reallly got into the movie experience! Just amazing. I would have to say my FAVORITE Italian movie is La Vita è bella. Everytime I see it I cry!

  5. nyc/caribbean ragazza November 12, 2007 at 4:38 pm #

    I just posted the trailer for Cinema Paradiso on my blog yesterday. Such a great movie.

    I guess dubbing is something I will have to get use to. I don’t like it at all. I’d rather read subtitles. I want to see and hear the actors in their own voices.

    I am excited about the discounted tickets on Wednesdays.

  6. Rose in Cali November 12, 2007 at 5:07 pm #

    I’m not sure if this made your list, but I thought “L’ultimo baccio” was pretty good–way better than the American version.

  7. Janie November 12, 2007 at 5:14 pm #

    I loved “Io Non Ho Paura”-we watched it in school! Now we’re in the midst of La Meglio Gioventu-never thought a 6 hour movie could be so good!

  8. jessica in rome November 12, 2007 at 6:39 pm #

    I am glad you wrote about this! So funny that this topic comes up a lot with my American friends who want to hear a “what’s weird” story about Rome. I don’t mind the break so much but at first the assigned seating really annoyed me. A few days ago we went to see a movie in the states before coming back. We got the tickets a few hours before then got held up in the mall next door. I knew the middle seats would probably be full but ALL the seats except the first row were gone. Daniele laughed and said SEE!!!! THIS is why we have assigned seating!! I have to admit, it is better if you are a early bird ticket buyer like me.

  9. erin November 12, 2007 at 7:25 pm #

    The Intervallo cracks me up but I kind of am growing to enjoy it.

    I love both the films you mentioned – another good one is Pane e Tulipani. I’ve heard that Caro Diario is good as well.

  10. Meg November 12, 2007 at 9:07 pm #

    I, too, was amazed at how much care Italians take with dubbing, right down to using period Italian for period movies. And although at first it annoyed me, I started to love the little intermission. I should confess, though, that when I was in Rome, I went to the English language cinema in Trastevere (I don’t know if it’s still there). The intervallo and assigned seating were the same, but I could just relax and listen, without wondering if I was mis-translating and missing a key point (and for me, the difference in the way their mouths moved vs. what they actually said was incredibly distracting).

  11. Janavi November 12, 2007 at 10:42 pm #

    When I was in Italy for the first time I went to see Gone With The Wind,which incredibly I had never seen. I thought it would be OK because I had read the book,and since it was set in the South people would be speaking slowly-they weren’t. And the final line “frankly my dear etc.”didn’t have the same impact as “non importa”.

  12. Lisa November 12, 2007 at 11:07 pm #

    Thats good to know so that way when I go to the movie theator I Won’t be all confused when the Intermission comes! I wanted to go see HO voglia di te last year but since I was only in rome for a week and my friend didnt speak italian/see 3 metri sopra il cielo, I passed on going to see it. But there is a great little theator in trastevere 🙂

  13. Christina November 13, 2007 at 1:38 am #

    In Canada (well Ontario, at least) Tuesdays are “cheap” night. Where a regular $10.00 ticket can go for about $6.00 or even less.

  14. Sestofi November 13, 2007 at 9:57 am #

    I think the assigned seating is a great idea. When I first came to Italy, my local movie theatre didn’t have it.
    What’s more, it was very common to let viewers for the next show into the theatre BEFORE the previous viewing had ended! So you there you would be, trying to catch the end of the film, and the walls of the cinema would be lined with people waiting for you to leave your seat (fire and safety regulations be damned)!

  15. Anna L'americana November 13, 2007 at 4:00 pm #

    The Pasquino is the English language movie theatre in Trastevere (there used to be another, the Fiammetta, in Parioli – long gone) that Meg refers to, and sadly, it is closed down – the “Pasquino” sign remains, but it is boarded up and probably soon to be another bad tourist restaurant. Sad.

    It was dirt cheap to get in (they were second-run films after all), there was no assigned seating (I’m still shocked at this development!), and smoking was allowed. The roof slid open (yes it did!) on an electric motor and during “Intervallo” they would open the roof (to let the smoke out!) and in the summer, after dark, they would just leave the roof open. Indoor movies but under the Roman night sky.

    And of course, there was the guy who would come out at Intervallo with the Algida cones and REALLY bad stale packaged popcorn and BOTTLED coke….

    And this went for any theatre back then – I can’t vouch for the present (that’s Shelley’s job): you bought your ticket and walked in & sat down no matter what time it was or when the movie started. They also did not clear the theatre when the movie was over so you would stay for the next showing to see the part you missed. There was never a need or even a thought that you needed to get to the theatre before the movie started, you just went to the movies when you were ready to go and then left the theatre after you have seen the whole film. Most everything I saw back then was from middle-to-middle rather than from beginning-to-end! You got used to the constant via-vai during the film – people coming and going with the phrase “this is where we came in” echoing thought the theatre….

    Sestofi: I too remember the people lining the walls of the theatre waiting for your seat for the next showing!

  16. Brendan November 14, 2007 at 2:54 am #

    I learned Italian by watching dubbed films, and most of them are done quite well. However, it always kind of bugged me when Italians said “they were the best dubbers in the world”. I mean, who else can really judge them on that one?

  17. Rachele January 13, 2008 at 12:05 am #

    ahhhhhhh… i remember my first time at the cinema with my Italian friends…..i was totally confused when the intermission came and everyone was getting up. My friend Sara looked at me like” ummm get up dude”…i was looking around like someone had snuck up on me. I was weirded out…then started laughing and of course had to explain that we dont do that in America, a phrase i quickly learned to clam up.
    And when me and my fiance go to movies when we go to visit my family in America he says” now, do we have assigned seats?” and every time it catches me off guard….

  18. FD January 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    I love Roberto Chevalier’s voice, who always dubs Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks. Yes, dubbers in Italy do an excellent job.

  19. Charles July 31, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    In the early 1960s there were two English language theatres in Rome. One, the Fiammetta was near the Via Veneto (down from the American Embassy) and in the basement of a larger Italian movie theatre, the Fiamma. The second one, in Parioli, was on Via Archimede. I don’t remembe the name of it at the moment, but we went often to both of these.

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