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Denmark 2002
Directed by
Lone Scherfig
112 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Italian For Beginners

Despite the fact that Lone Scherfig’s film was made under the imprimatur of Lars von Trier’s notoriously humourless anti-Hollywood Dogma credo, it is in fact a romantic comedy. Unfortunately the marriage does not come off with dour realist style at odds with the outrageous sit-com-ish plot. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry is a good thing if you do both but not if you end up doing neither, which is what happens here

The story concerns a number of chronic losers (i.e. ordinary people) living in a town near Copenhagen whose lives all intersect, coming together in a small Beginners Italian class in the local council building. Recently-widowed pastor Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen) has arrived to take over from the former pastor who pushed his organist off the balcony of their church. He encounters, amongst others,  Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund), the abrasive manager of the sports stadium restaurant and his ineffectual  boss and friend Jørgen Mortensen (Peter Gantzler) who has an unrequited love for Giulia (Sara Indrio Jensen), an Italian waitress in the restaurant, who iionically feels the same for him; an attractive  hairdresser, Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen) with an alcoholic mother; and a chronically clumsy bakery employee Olympia (Anette Stovelbaek) who lives with an abusive father. In trie sit-com fashion these characters sail in and out of each other’s lives to greater or lesser effect

As we well know, the Scandinavians have a flair for deadpan black (or perhaps that should be “grey”) humour and one can see the potential to go all out here but as a result of Scherfig’s direction the audience has to do all the work.  Even the scene in which the Italian teacher drops dead of a heart attack during class (one of four deaths in the film) barely raises a smile so diligently does she avoid any comedic spin.  A pity, because the script which Scherfig wrote is actually a lot of fun.  Italian For Beginners is one film of which a remake could be a good thing. Indeed Scherfig’s next film, the non-Dogme indie hit Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself, showed how much Dogme strictures worked against her innate sensibilities.




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