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  Italian for Beginners Funny How Love Can Be
Year: 2000
Director: Lone Scherfig
Stars: Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Støvelbæk, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Peter Gantzler, Lars Kaalund, Sara Indio Jensen, Karen-Lise Mynster, Rikke Wölck, Elsebeth Steentoft, Bent Mejding, Lene Tiemroth, Claus Gerving, Jesper Christensen
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen) is a new pastor in a small Danish town and having recently lost his wife he hopes to immerse himself in his new job to take his mind off things. However, on his first day while he is being shown around he wonders if he has made the right decision as the previous pastor he is temporarily replacing is very aggressive and makes a point of hanging around to keep an eye on him. For the moment, Andreas will live in the nearby hotel where Jorgen (Peter Gantzler) works on reception, and he has troubles of his own both with love and work - much like a few people in this town...

Italian for Beginners, or Italiensk for begyndere if you were Danish, was a later example of the well-known Dogme 95 movement which stripped filmmaking back to its basics with a selection of rules by which the director creating the film had to abide. Even in the first four works under these restrictions there were some deviations, and so it was here that this film could have been seen as a genre piece, that genre being romantic comedy, a plotline that was taboo under the rules. Of course, for the first half you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a doomladen drama about lonely people.

Those lonely people are brought together at the Italian class of the title, and include Andreas, Jorgen, and a few others. Among them is Jorgen's friend Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund) who is the possessor of a short temper which is about to get him sacked from his job at the hotel restaurant, and Jorgen is supposed to be the man breaking the bad news to him, except the receptionist is so timid that he doesn't have the courage to do so. It's not only men at these classes, as there are a few women there too, all the better to fashion a few connections between them, although director Lone Scherfig doesn't make everything run entirely conveniently.

One of those women is bakery worker Olympia (Anette Støvelbæk) who lives with her father, a temperamental grump whose sole pleasure in life is to complain and put his daughter down at every opportunity. Poor Olympia has a problem in that she is hopelessly clumsy, a trait that you think Scherfig is laying on a bit too thick until you find out the reason why. And then there's hairdresser Carmen (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen) who would like to own the business she works for, and is labouring under the stress of her ungrateful and alcoholic mother suffering terminal cancer; she keeps turning up at the shop having escaped from hospital yet again.

So far, so miserable, but after a while it's as if the filmmakers take pity on the characters and allow a little ray of sunshine into their lives. Mainly this is achieved by letting them find each other and take comfort in their blossoming relationships; it could easily have come across as cynical audience manipulation, but in these hands the happy ending comes about with sweetness and a genuine sense of reward, that these poor souls have finally won the affection they deserved and we have the satisfaction of their contentment that we have wanted all along. After that dour opening Italian for Beginners resolves itself into an immensely sympathetic tale, so yes, it's pretty much the Danish Dogme version of a Hollywood romance, but we feel we've earned it, as have the characters.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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