Subtitles are a wonderful invention. For the hard of hearing, or just plain stone deaf, they give meaning to the magic of the moving picture. They reveal the mystery of a foreign tongue. And they bring us a dose of humour when they go wrong. Yet I did not warm to the subtitle for many years. They were a distraction. A nuisance. Irritating. Their mere presence on screen would compel me to change channel.
I did not watch foreign films. Ever. Except, if I’m to be entirely truthful, with the exception of a few choice late night French or Spanish flicks on Channel 4. There was no internet when I was a teenager. A saucy señorita revealing a breast or two in a moody continental film was pretty much as good as it got. Teenage angst is defined by the horror of patiently sitting through a film one does not understand, only for the joyous moment to be dashed by subtitling covering up the wonder of the female nipple. Lads born on this side of the millennial divide just don’t know how good they’ve got it.
Then I moved to Mexico. And subtitles became the norm. If we went to the cinema, I had to make sure I booked tickets for the subtitled version and not the dubbed one. At home, anything we watched either had Spanish subtitles on for Mrs P, or English subtitles for me. I became used to subtitles. They ceased to bother me at all. Indeed, they opened up a whole world of cinema to me.
Without subtitles I would never have met Hatidze in Honeyland, an endearing Macedonian production. I would not have gone on a trip to Acapulco with Mariano, Antolin and Justo. I would not have hit the campaign trail with Luis Colosio, and experienced the ensuing tragedy, in both 1994 and The Candidate. My taste buds would not have been tantilised by the Taco Chronicoles. I would not have become acquainted with the scandal of the Alcasser Murders in Spain. And I would have entirely missed out on the most bizarre real-life political murder mystery I've ever come across - Killer Ratings. I highly recommend all of the above, most of which can be found on Netflix.
Of course, every silver lining has a cloud. The cloud being Parchis. For Mrs P, it was a nostalgic trip back to her childhood. For me, it was drivel that achieved nothing more than inspiring a sense of pity for kids growing up in Mexico in the 80s and 90s. Whether they deserve the same level of pity as us British teens wailing at subtitled nipples is open to debate. You can decide that one for yourself.