Italian is a passionate language, usually associated with romantic destinations and ravishing men and women. Yet, there is one thing to enjoy listening to people speaking Italian, and there is a huge challenge in learning the language of love. Lone Scherfig, the first Dogma female director, surely managed to make Italian the perfect excuse for a charming Danish comedy. The movie, written and directed by Scherfig, follows the aesthetic principles of the Dogma 95 movement regarding natural lighting, hand-held cameras, character improvisation and real life settings which beautifully blend in a warm comedy about lost souls and the redeeming power of love. Italian for Beginners makes a good story about all those loners who channel their energy into positive hobbies meant to give purpose to their loneliness.
Italian for Beginners lacks the bitter tone of Thomas Vinterberg's Celebration/Festen and deglamours the lives of single people by turning the spotlight on the various shades of social isolation. However, the movie has a warm touch and its naturalness feels sparkling and refreshing. Inspired by Circle of Friends by author Maeve Binchy, the movie has a romantic nuance and its story revolves around three men and three women. Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen) has recently lost his wife and is temporarily filling for the position of the estranged pastor, Reverend Wredmann. He is staying in the hotel where Jorgen Mortensen (Peter Gantzler), the junior manager, who hasn't had an erection in four years, is working. Jorgen's best friend is Halvfinn (Lars Kaalund), the hotel bar's hot-tempered manager. Andreas is having a hard time coping with the loss of his wife and Reverend Wredman's legacy, Jorgen is courting a young waitress whereas Halvfinn gets himself sacked for bad treatment of the customers. Their hidden needs and desires are echoed in the hearts and faces of three beautiful women: Giulia (Sara Indrio Jensen), the beautiful waitress who resigns in support of her boss's dismissal and who secretly covets Jorgen Mortensen, Karen (Ann Eleanora Jorgensen), a hairdresser with magical touch that brings Halvfinn to life and helps her dying mother find her peace and Olympia (Anette Střvelbaek), the clumsiest blond ever, ruining the business of the pastry shop owner for whom she works as a sales assistant and caring to the needs of an abusive father. The Italian course offered by the City Council is the perfect place for them to meet and grow fonder. The rest is the work of Cupid.
Italian for Beginners is European to the bone- it is extremely amusing, with unexpected turns of events, with a sort of unfiltered passion and genuine performances; it feels rather as an indie shot according to a different Vow of Chastity that values originality and genuineness. The movie is funny in the way all older people in the story rapidly find their end- Marcello, the Italian teacher, Olympia's father, Karen's mother- and make room for the young ones to develop and find their path. Even the rest of the elder supporting characters are low-profiled, acting only as props to the unfolding of events. The six interconnected characters end up spending a day or two in a rainy Venice -not the glittering, romantic spot you would imagine it to be- that acts as a trigger to their unspoken emotions and desires. Spontaneity would be the best word to describe Lone Scherfig's movie that feels like an Italian/French comedy, shot in a purely Dannish Dogma style, with the touch of an Ingmar Bergman story and the matchmaking voluptuousness of a Nora Ephron romance. Bliss and comedy go together hand in hand without turning Italian for Beginners into a weightless story that feels too predictable or too judgemental. The movie does not push the viewer into a happy ending ever after kind of story, it just allows things to happen, no promises, no guarantees. Old people- addictive, abusers, unfaithful- may be dead but there is no assurance that things won't come back to haunt them and shape the rest of their life. For the time being, six loners enjoy a moment of fleeting joy that might turn into a Lars von Triers's Melancholia desperate, gloomy end of the world mood. Or not!