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Reader question: Can you avoid seeing a dubbed movie in French cinemas?

If you're not a fan of the tradition of dubbing foreign-language movies into French, here's how to avoid it.

Reader question: Can you avoid seeing a dubbed movie in French cinemas?
A Dimanche au Cinéma event on the Champs-Elysees. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand / AFP)

Question: Sometimes I like to watch Hollywood movies in France, but they always seem to be dubbed into French – is there a way of avoiding dubbed versions?

Going to the cinema is one of life’s joys for many people – and France, the home of Cannes, is well known as a nation of cinephiles. But what if you want to enjoy an overseas film with its original language soundtrack rather than one that has been dubbed into French?

You can do that, too. Many cinemas in France show original language versions of films with French subtitles as well as French dubbed versions. 

The trick is to know which screenings are which – and for that you need to look at cinema listings online or in the local press.

The acronym you’re looking for in the cinema listings is VOST – which stands for Version Originale Sous-Titrée – and that means the screening in question has the original soundtrack and (French) subtitles. 

Frequently, avant-premiere screenings – preview showings of films in selected cinemas before their official release in France – are VOST.

You may occasionally also see VO – Version Originale – which comes without subtitles for the full-on original movie experience.

It’s similar to the VM (Version Multilingue)  initialisation on French TV, which allows viewers to watch imported TV shows or movies in their original language, as well as in French.

If the listing shows no initials, it means the movie will be dubbed into French, so you’ll be treated to the sight of one of your favourite American or British movie starts speaking fluent French – albeit while their mouth moves slightly out-of-sync with the words being spoken.

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CULTURE

French MP abandons bid to ban bullfighting

A bid to ban bullfighting in France has been abandoned, to the relief of lovers of the traditional blood sport and dismay for animal rights' activists.

French MP abandons bid to ban bullfighting

The 577-seat National Assembly had looked set to vote on draft legislation that would have made the practice illegal.

But the MP behind the bill withdrew it after lawmakers filed more than 500 amendments, many of them designed to take up parliamentary time and obstruct the vote.

“I’m so sorry,” Aymeric Caron, a La France insoumise (LFI) MP and animal rights’ campaigner, told the national assembly as he announced the decision in raucous and bad-tempered scenes.

Though public opinion is firmly in favour of outlawing the practice, the bill had already been expected to be rejected by a majority of lawmakers who
are wary about stirring up the bullfighting heartlands in the south of the country.

“We need to go towards a conciliation, an exchange,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday, adding that he did not expect the draft law to pass. “From where I am sitting, this is not a current priority.”

His government has urged members of the ruling centrist coalition not to support the text from the opposition LFI, even though many members are known to personally favour it.

During a first debate of the parliament’s law commission last week, a majority voted against the proposal by Caron, who denounced the “barbarism” of a tradition that was imported from Spain in the 1850s.

“Caron has antagonised people instead of trying to smooth it over,” a lawmaker from Macron’s party told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The bill proposed modifying an existing law penalising animal cruelty to remove exemptions for bullfights that can be shown to be “uninterrupted local
traditions”.

These are granted in towns such as Bayonne and Mont-de-Marsan in south west France and along the Mediterranean coast including Arles, Beziers and Nîmes.

Around 1,000 bulls are killed each year in France, according to the Observatoire National des Cultures Taurines.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Could bullfighting finally be banned in France?

Many so-called “bull towns” depend on the shows for tourism and see the culture of bull-breeding and the spectacle of the fight as part of their way of life – idolised by artists from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.

They organised demonstrations last Saturday, while animal rights protesters gathered in Paris – highlighting the north-south and rural-versus-Paris divide at the heart of the debate.

“Caron, in a very moralising tone, wants to explain to us, from Paris, what is good or bad in the south,” the mayor of Mont-de-Marsan, Charles Dayot, told AFP recently.

Other defenders of “la Corrida” in France view the focus on the sport as hypocritical when factory farms and industrial slaughter houses are overlooked.

“These animals die too and we don’t talk enough about it,” said Dalia Navarro, who formed the pro-bullfighting group Les Andalouses in southern Arles.

Modern society “has more and more difficulty in accepting seeing death. But la Corrida tackles death, which is often a taboo subject,” she told AFP.

Previous judicial attempts to outlaw bullfighting have repeatedly failed, with courts routinely rejecting lawsuits lodged by animal rights activists, most recently in July 2021 in Nîmes.

The debate in France about the ethics of killing animals for entertainment is echoed in other countries with bullfighting histories, including Spain and Portugal as well as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.

In June, a judge in Mexico City ordered an indefinite suspension of bullfighting in the capital’s historic bullring, the largest in the world.

The first bullfight took place in France in 1853 in Bayonne to honour Eugenie de Montijo, the Spanish wife of Napoleon III.

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