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Italian For Beginners

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Italian For Beginners

Starring: Anders W. Berthelsen, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen
Director: Lone Scherfig
Rated: R
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: January 2002
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Foreign

*Also starring: Anette Stovelbaek, Peter Gantzler, Lars Kaalund, Sandra Indrio Jensen

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Sometimes we in the West look patronizingly at the quaint traditions of the Eastern world, especially at the concept of arranged marriages. How strange it seems to us that in some cases the groom and bride do not even meet before the wedding ceremony! Their attitude seems to be: get together first and love will follow--eventually. In the West we marry purportedly for love, but love is not easy to find. In the hurly-burly ratrace known as the dating game, lonely people could search for soul mates for years, resting their elbows nightly on the counters in single bars, going to events catered by religious groups, using computers, worst of all getting fixed up as blind dates. Some of us in the West think we can meet a better class of person by taking courses, and the old gag is of the women who attend college to get their M.R.S. degree. In Lone Scherfig's delightful "Italian for Beginners," a group of lonely, neurotic people, some depressed because of family dilemmas and in one case just plain rude, meet in a makeshift class for learning the Italian language. The story is filmed in Copenhagen by Jorgen Johansson in the controversial and allegedly pure Dogme 95 style--meaning no artificial lighting is used, hand-held cameras take precedence over the big fellas, and Hollywood aesthetics are bypassed in favor of a more authentic exploration of personalities than car crashes and exploding buildings can bring to the audience.

With quiet humor replacing the biting wit and cynical outlook of one of the best-known Dogme 95 works, Thomas Vinterberg's "The Celebration"--about a prodigal son's return for his father's 60th birthday and the skeletons that are released from the rich man's closets--"Italiensk for begyndere" (as it's known in its Danish language) hones in on six lonely people in a bleak Copenhagen neighborhood. Ms. Scherfig doesn't show us much of the outside world, preferring to let us in on her perspective by capturing the males in the picture from a female director's point of view.

Each of the half dozen people who look for love has a particular weakness making the task of finding a mate all the more difficult. Jorgen Mortensen (Peter Gantzler) manages a hotel in a sports complex with a crush on the Italian waitress, Giulia (Sara Indrio Jensen). His impotence coupled with the server's inadequacies in the Danish language make their relationship a difficult one at best. His best friend who works as a waiter, Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund), is to be fired for belligerence but he is to expose his soft side in his relationship with a female barber, Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen. Olympia (Anette Stovelbaek), a youthful woman and terminally clumsy woman who claims to have had 43 jobs in the past few years is to find her soul mate in the town's new pastor, Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen), who was recently widowed and who takes flak from the suspended and dyspeptic elder preacher.

It's not difficult to see why this entry into the Toronto , New York and Telluride Film Festivals has garnered several awards, including the Silver Bear in Berlin and the FIPRESCI prize for advancing the Dogme 95 technique. The story is intimate, credible, and funny and you can bet that most of us in the audience--none of us Danes, presumably--could identify with one of more of these klutzy characters, giving the most inept among us cause for hope.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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