Italian For Beginners

Movie Review by EDF

Starring: Anders W Berthelsen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Anette Støvelbæk, Peter Gantzler
Director: Lone Scherfig

Every now and then there comes a group of filmmakers who go out of their way to produce movies that are structured differently in production values. ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS, the 5th Danish Dogme movie, shot in a guerrilla style of movie making, is where script and spontaneity are the order of the day with props, lighting and costumes treated with less importance than in most other movies. This helps to make the film seem familiar in both the settings and characters.

ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS follows a group of 30-35 year-olds who, for various reasons, are brought together at an evening Italian class for beginners. One of the main characters is the unpredictable, football mad Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund) who works in a hotel bar and whose quick cutting comments to customers constantly get him into trouble. Always wearing a Juventus football jersey, he is not the sort of person the hotel would wish to keep on their books.

Hal-Finn’s direct superior, the gentleman-like Jorgen Mortensen (Peter Gantzler) is told to fire Hal-Finn for his constant rude behaviour to the hotel guests. Not knowing what to do, he confides in Hal-Finn about the situation. Hal-Finn then tells his Italian co-worker Giulia (Sara Indrio Jensen) who replies that if he has to leave, she will to and then Hal-Finn informs Jorgen. Jorgen is personally disappointed as he is secretly in love with Giulia but as he can’t speak Italian to let her know this, he soon finds himself joining the Italian evening class before it’s too late.

We also follow the story of Andreas (Anders W Berthelsen), a pastor who has been assigned to fill in for the volatile Minister Wredmann (Bent Mejding). Wredmann’s strange outbursts intimidate Andreas to the point that the young pastor becomes increasingly nervous and he makes mistakes during his sermons, which perversely makes Wredmann a very happy man.

Other characters that eventually find their way to the Italian class include Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen), who is a struggling hairdresser and has a lot to contend with, as her ill mother is a resident at a detox ward of the local hospital. Lastly the quiet, shy Olympia (Anette Stovelbaek) takes up Italian lessons, despite an unhappy family life thanks to her negative thinking, verbally abusive father. He is forever belittling his daughter with comments, constantly making her feel small and teasing her that no man will ever want to have her.

One evening, their jolly, over enthusiastic teacher dies from a heart attack. To the characters, the class was more than just a learning mechanism; it was an escape from their problems, even though the class lasted for a short time each week. Now, the part-time students feel that if they don’t get a replacement teacher, then the class and possibly their lives will fall apart.

One of the Dogme rules is that it will not allow each release to be labelled as a certain genre of movie. In fact while this has elements of romance and comedy, it is a fair assessment to say that this movie is more an observation of life and relationships, with each person finding a solution to their problems. The emotions and fears are real and familiar due to a coherent script that doesn’t stray into the absurd, which makes this movie both enjoyable and believable.

5 out of 6 stars

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