Italian for Beginners
2000, R, 112 min. Directed by Lone Scherfig. Starring Sara Indrio Jensen, Lars Kaalund, Peter Gantzler, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen, Anette Stovelbaek, Anders W. Berthelsen.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 12, 2002
Italian for Beginners is an amiable romantic comedy from Denmark that interweaves the lives of several Copenhagen residents. In the midst of a bleak Nordic winter, these characters dream of sunnier futures, and try to assuage their romantic urges by taking an Italian language class at the local community night school. There's the new pastor in town, Andreas (Berthelsen) -- a widower who is in town to fill in for the regular spiritual leader who's been prone to pushing parishioners off the balcony. Andreas becomes intrigued by a clumsy woman who lives with her complaining father. There's also Jorgen (Gantzler), who manages the hotel where Andreas is staying. Jorgen is infatuated with the restaurant's Italian cook. The manager of the restaurant is a belligerant soccer fan who falls for the hairdresser at the local salon. Indeed, Copenhagen has never looked this small. All we see of the city are the interiors of the church, hotel, restaurant, hair salon, and night school classroom. Italian for Beginners would be little more than a diverting romp featuring un-Hollywood-like romantic leads were it not for its pedigree. The film is a production of the Danish Dogme movement and bears the group's certificate of compliance with the movement's ascetic vows which involve things like shooting hand-held and digitally and using only in situ lighting and sound. However, nothing about any of the Dogme films thus far (Dancer in the Dark, The Celebration, julien donkey-boy) has prepared us for Italian for Beginners. Instead of the heavy dramas and sordid social relations we've come to associate with Dogme productions and their directors, Italian for Beginners shows that Dogme films need not be exclusive of humor, love, and generosity of spirit. The movie re-energizes the idea of Dogme as merely a stripped-down production strategy rather than an overarching world-view. Scherfig is also the first woman to direct a Dogme feature, which may also have something to do with the film's more ingratiating feel. Italian for Beginners will be of interest for anyone seeking unconventional romantic stories as well as those curious about the development of the Dogme movement.