Irene Bulla


Translating romanesco in David Grieco’s La Macchinazione (2015)

In 2014 I translated the screenplay for La Macchinazione, a film by David Grieco about the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini (to be released in October 2015), from Italian into English. The film, starring Massimo Ranieri as Pasolini, reconstructs the plot (la macchinazione), involving both petty criminals and organized crime, which led to the poet’s death in 1975.

The task, which I undertook together with Irish screenwriter Niall Queenan, proved to be an especially daunting one, for several reasons. While some characters speak standard Italian, most speak romanesco, and a vintage variety at that: it is the language spoken in the post-war period by the ragazzi di vita in Roman borgate, a language which Pasolini in turn studied and reproduced with ethnographic zeal. Keeping in mind both the role of romanesco in Pasolini’s work and the meaning of Grieco’s cinematic reinterpretation was essential in order to approach the vexata quaestio of what to lose and what to save in the translation process. Should one pretend the romanesco was never there in the first place, as William Weaver did with Gadda’s Pasticciaccio? Should a dialect be flattened onto a geographically neutral colloquial English? It was obvious that choosing a dialectal or regional equivalent in English (Brooklynese, Hiberno-English?) would not only be an incongruous misplacement, but a profound betrayal. La Macchinazione is in fact about Rome as much as it is about Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Lastly, it was paramount to consider the purpose of the text and its target audience. The movie was to be shot in Italian and French, so the screenplay would not be used on set. Rather, it was destined to be read by workers in the cinema industry outside Italy.

Far from proposing any comprehensive model, my paper rather examines these and other issues as inescapable topics of discussion, using short clips from the movie to illustrate specific points.


Irene Bulla obtained a B.A. and an M.A. in English and German studies at the University of Roma Tre (majoring in Translation Studies), followed by an M.A. in Anglo-Irish Literature at University College Dublin. She is currently a PhD candidate in Italian and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her doctoral project focuses on the notion of monstrosity in twentieth-century fantastic literature. Her interests include fantastic fiction, horror studies, biography studies, the theory and practice of translation.