An incredibly low-rent Danish film, Italian for Beginners brings a group of people together in a sweet and charming way, if a little convenient. Through a Kevin Baconesque web of coincidence and acquaintance, a number of people join an Italian class, which they all love. Things aren’t going so well for any of them, or for the class, but that brings them together. Each oft hem has some gap in their lives; not a shallow, American cap like an unrewarding career or low self-esteem. The Danes are neighbors to Ingmar Bergman’s cold Swedish angst – these folks have real problems. Drawn together by love of the Italian language, they also suffer death, misfortune, and fear, weathering it all as they pull closer. It sounds like a drama but it really isn’t.
Is it the lilting passion of the romance language that connects them? Or is it their mutual interest in something so foreign that allows them to see each other as something wonderful? I am probably reading into the film, but otherwise it is a few steps above a college kid’s “hook up” screenplay insofar as how much the film focuses on the love connections and not what is bringing these connections to fruition. These people need this Italian class, and not just to learn Italian.
It is so important to them that they show up when it is cancelled, and a man invites an Italian woman, knowing it is her only language, because he wants her to be a part of it. We just don’t get a sense of what draws them so strongly. The characters by and large are generally honest, sincere, and good-hearted, with the exception of massive jerk Halvfinn. Still, everyone finds a niche and a friend and a hand to hold, and I found myself smiling involuntarily during the last act.
From a technical standpoint, the film is sometimes hard to watch. The color and light and focus are all clear and as beautiful as film (it was shot on video or on 8mm camera) but the camera is seasick-jiggly, like a home movie. The sound editing is a good example for people who don’t understand that Oscar category. Car sounds or other ambient noises cut in and out depending on the take. I spent a long time trying to figure out what language they were speaking – it’s Danish, to save you the trouble. Italian for Beginners has a mostly homemade feel – a pie baked by your grandmother. It’s not perfect, maybe it’s even a little burnet, but the love behind it is real.
The story is simple, and not all that unpredictable by the end, and the subtitled dialogue is abrupt, but especially for a bilingual movie, it feels very homey and nice.
MPAA Rating R-language and sexuality
Release date 1/18/02 LA/NY
Time in minutes 99
Director Lone Scherfig