A Disturbing Tale In Any Language



When it comes to translating titles, some distributors seem to go out of their way to wreck the films they’ve paid for. ‘The Witches of Zugarramurdi’ was always going to be a problem title, but changing it to ‘Witching & Bitching’ didn’t help. Likewise turned the twisted thriller ‘The Hidden Face’ into ‘The Xxxxxx’ (I can’t type it!) wrecked the big surprise in this film. I was once asked to retitle the French thriller ‘Poulet au Vinaigre’, a multiple-pun meaning young inexperienced person in a nasty situation, and came up with ‘Cop Au Vin’, which sort-of worked. Now we have ‘Dictado’ (‘Dictation’) retitled as ‘Childish Games’. I can see what they were trying to do but they blew it.

A shame, because ‘Dictado’ is a disturbing slow-build of a psychological thriller, and yet another interesting piece of filmmaking from Spain, this time from director Antonio Chavarrías. Daniel and Laura are thirtysomething teachers at the same school. Laura is having trouble getting pregnant. Daniel is visited by Mario, an old school friend who begs for his help and subsequently kills himself when it’s not forthcoming. Through this roundabout method, Mario’s daughter ends up staying with the childless couple, but a rift develops between Daniel and the sweet little girl they’ve been given a chance to adopt. Why can’t he bring himself to have anything to do with her, and why does she appear to know things that happened before she was born?

Laura asks him about his childhood friendship with Mario, and why it so suddenly came to an end. But Daniel can’t bring himself to tell her the truth, because he’s sc

What’s so interesting about this set-up, and what horror-hungry critics overlooked, is that what at first appears to be a bog-standard possessed-child supernatural film turns into something far more interesting and less genre-specific. An overly convoluted first act gets untangled to reveal a very simple and unsettling idea about guilt and revenge. The film is gorgeously lensed, with a great central performance from Magica Perez as the little girl Julia. She clearly doesn’t trust hew potential new father and neither do we, but how can she make him feel so guilty for something that happened long before she was born?

As the film turns into Hitchcock territory Daniel undergoes a character change that’s a bit of a leap, and yet he adds a layer of ambiguity to what you already know, leaving you with plenty to argue about afterwards. It’s not perfect, but as I’ve said many times before here, better a flawed original than an immaculate copy.