ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS
Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen) is the new Pastor, whose predecessor went berserk and pushed the organist off the balcony. Andreas, attracted to Olympia (Anette Støvelbæk), who lives with her abusive father, is temporarily living at a hotel and makes friends with the desk clerk Jorgen Mortensen (Peter Gantzler), who is afraid he is impotent. Halvfinn (Lars Kaalund) is drawn to hairdresser Karen (Ann Eleanora Jorgensen), whose mother is critically ill. Giulia (Sara Indrio Jensen) is an Italian waitress who has a crush on Jorgen. All these characters come together at the local council’s weekly class of Italian for beginners.
Review by Louise Keller:
It’s silly, I know, but the title led me to believe I was about to see an Italian comedy. Instead, the film turned out to be a Danish Dogme film, but I was far from disappointed. Italian for Beginners is a delightful romantic comedy with plenty of bite. It’s far from a frothy piece, and the characters are complex, laden with plenty of baggage and tinged with tragic undertones. Lone Scherfig’s film, according to the Dogme rules, is low-budget, concentrating on characters and plot, as opposed to production, hence the somewhat jerky, rough camera work. And the characters and plot will certainly capture your imagination. But the fact that it falls into this category is rather irrelevant, as it is the enjoyment factor that really counts. This is the story of six individuals whose lives become interwoven. There are no stereotypes and each character is a bit of a loser and rather unpredictable. The script is lively and we end up a long way from where we begin. The new young minister keeps getting funerals mixed up; the blonde who works in the pastry shop cares for her ill, bad tempered father; the local hairdresser supports her terminally ill alcoholic mother; the restaurant manager is a bit of a lad and refuses to wear a hair net to keep his hair off his face; the hotel desk clerk is impotent and has no interests; the young Italian waitress can’t speak Danish. The connection? They all end up at an Italian class for beginners and their common desires for love become a reality. Why Italian? Why indeed? We get involved in each character’s life, and it isn’t until half way through the film that we see how all the pieces fit in the jigsaw. The magic is in the spontaneity; moments like the one when the hairdresser’s tears get confused in the hair wash. The final threads all come together in Venice, the ultimate romantic city. There are many stumbling blocks in the journey of love, and I enjoyed every bump. Quirky, surprising, funny and sad, Italian for Beginners is a true delight for anyone who has ever been in love.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Perhaps the most mainstream of Dogme films, Italian for Beginners could also be a movie for beginners: beginners in love, beginners in filmmaking and beginners in film appreciation. The film is not quite the success it might have been, but that’s the result of the script not the Dogme technique of filmmaking chastity. The weaknesses are built-in: it’s a film that draws together disparate characters with dark humour and touches of savage satire. We are never sure how much the filmmaker respects his characters, which gives the film a colder edge than the genre requires – but I suspect that’s deliberate. Although it’s lightweight in thematic terms, there are several deaths and enough family twists to fill a couple of soap episodes, yet the underlying bleakness of the humour saves the film from anything resembling corn or cloying sentimentality. And for those who think politically incorrect jokes are the best, you’ll enjoy one subtle but pointed joke at the expense of Icelanders, who are notorious consumers of alcohol. (The short scene refers to a guest’s mini bar.) But the best part is its economical ability to portray characters whose crises somehow matter to us.
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Note: Australian short film THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD will precede all sessions of ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS at all cinemas.
ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS (M)
Italiensk for begyndere
CAST: Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Støvelbæk, Peter Gantzler, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Lars Kaalund, Sara Indrio Jensen
PRODUCER: Ib Tardini
DIRECTOR: Lone Scherfig
SCRIPT: Lone Scherfig
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jørgen Johansson
EDITOR: Gerd Tjur
MUSIC: not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: not credited
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 20, 2002 (Sydney/Melbourne; other states to follow)