The winner of a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Italian for Beginners
is the first film made under the Dogme rules of austerity (no artificial lighting, no extraneous music, no imported props, etc) to be directed by a woman, Danish director Lone Scherfig. It's set in a small Danish town where half-a-dozen awkward misfits (the newly arrived pastor, a recently bereaved hairdresser, an ex-footballer turned abrasive bar manager, a put-upon baker's assistant and so on) are drawn together by the shared activity of an Italian-language evening-class and--yes, you guessed it--start coming out of their shells and finding love.
This is a gentle, good-natured film, full of quirky dialogue and unforced humour. Scherfig derives a good deal of amusement from watching the gloomy, buttoned-up Danes gradually relaxing and expanding under the influence of their improved linguistic skills, and reaching out for happiness. (As usual in North European cinema, Italian equals everything that's spontaneous, life-loving and sexy.) True, the pro-togetherness message is banal, and the whole film's altogether a little too pat, especially in the final neat pairing-off and the way a couple of obstructive parents helpfully contrive to die just when they need to. Still, the freshness of the largely improvised performances, and Scherfig's affectionate regard for her characters, make for a film that's hard to dislike.
On the DVD: Italian for Beginners has no extras except the theatrical trailer. The transfer faithfully reproduces the mainly hand-held, digital video quality of the original. --Philip Kemp
An evening class in beginner's Italian intertwines the lives of various people in modern-day Copenhagen. Andreas (Anders Berthelsen) is a young clergyman newly arrived in the city, who finds himself consistently undermined by Reverend Wredman, a man consumed with bitterness at his daughter's suicide. Olympia works at a bakery and cares thanklessly for her ailing and irritable father. Shy concierge Jorgen (Peter Gantzler) is in love with an Italian waitress named Giulia (Sara Indrio Jensen) but doesn't know how to approach her. The abrasive bar manager Hal-Finn, Giulia's boss, is sacked for being difficult with customers and is in the beginning stages of a relationship with a woman dominated by her alcoholic mother. Jorgen determines to learn Italian to be able to speak to Guilia in her native tongue, and drags the lonely Anders along. Finally, Karen (Ann Jorgensen), a hairdresser who is battling with a terminally alcoholic mother also attends, being rather taken with the hotheaded Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund) who is now one of her customers. When the class teacher Marcello expires suddenly with a heart-attack the class is faced with termination. But Hal-Finn, who claims to have learned Italian when Juventus FC visited Copenhagen a few years back, volunteers to take over the class and events in Karen and Olympia's lives soon draw the class ever-closer in strange and unforeseen ways.