Starring: Anders Berthelsen, Peter Ganzler
Director: Lone Scherfig
Some years ago a few young Scandinavian directors rejected mainstream conventions in contemporary cinema and decided to hold to principles which make films look more realistic.
These principles include no lighting, costumes or make up, not using sets or sound stages and giving actors the right to improvise with the script. Appropriately, the movement was called Dogma and its results have been uneven, to say the least.
Italian for Beginners is without question the best and most accessible of the Dogma films. And for what it is worth it is also the first feature film by the only woman director to have signed on to these principles.
Italian for Beginners is a deadpan romantic comedy about lovelorn outcasts living in a grey Copenhagen suburb who come together for a weekly Italian-language class. The film opens with the arrival of Andreas (Anders Berthelsen), the new Lutheran pastor, who is forced to take residence in the local hotel because his predecessor refuses to leave the presbytery.
Andreas is befriended by the amiable, permanently befuddled hotel manager, Jorgen (Peter Ganzler), who is besotted with Giulia (Sara Indrio Jensen), a stunningly beautiful Italian barmaid who works in the nearby pub run by the caustic Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund).
When Hal-Finn’s superiors threaten to fire him because of his scruffy appearance, he heads to the local salon, where he meets hairdresser
Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen), whose entire existence is dominated by her needy, exasperating mother.
Soon enough, Hal-Finn is returning on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, Andreas hooks up with the catastrophically clumsy Olympia (Anette Stovelbaek), an insecure pastry shop assistant whose life is run by her ogre of a father.
Only two things bind these characters together in the film. They all live on the fringe of society and they are all learning Italian.
The class decides to practise its new-found language skills with a trip to Venice and in that most romantic of cities love blossoms in a variety of ways.
This film won the Ecumenical Prize at last year’s Berlin Film Festival. One can see why. Through its wonderful humour it also examines the pain of oppressive parents, poor self-esteem, mental illness, failed romances and whether ‘mercy killing’ is merciful at all.
Italian for Beginners is a film where the Dogma principles complement the slice-of-life story and add to the enjoyment of the film.
If you only see one foreign language film this year, make it this one.