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Italian for Beginners (Lone Scherfig) 2002 

            Lone Scherfigís modest and mildly charming romantic comedy (wasnít there a rule in the Dogmatic oath about not creating genre films?) Italian for Beginners is the sort of movie that could be easily held up as the end of the creative spurt that was the Danish Dogme movement, but that would probably be lending this trifle far too much importance. Thereís so little in Italian for Beginners that rises above the conventional that you canít help but think its Dogme trappings are more of a marketing gimmick than a justifiable aesthetic. Certainly, itís not much more pedestrian than Mifune, but itís also lacking a performance as strong as Iben Hjejleís was in that film. Unlike any Dogme film Iíve seen so far, things donít feel immediate or intimate here, and as such the handheld camerawork seems superfluous. Itís relatively inoffensive piece of fluff, and it will surely leave some audience members feeling good about themselves for bearing witness to it. It has won a Silver Bear, somehow, suggesting its appeals might be broader than I give them credit for, but I couldnít help wishing there were a bit more to it. The production values arenít all bad, since it at least allows us to be spared the direction by pop song of the moment that usually dominates Hollywoodís romantic comedies, but the editing is a bit of a mess and you have to wonder whatís the point of shooting in a place as ravishing as Venice if you only intend to make it look washed out.  

            As Lars von Trierís The Kingdom suggests, there must be something wicked in the water in Denmark, because all of these Dogma movies have an overflow of familial strife. Italian for Beginners is so jam packed with it that it could almost go head to head with Thomas Vinterbergís The Celebration. There are some scenes here that are downright harrowing, and seem a bit out of place in a film thatís supposed to make us feel good about its class of adult-education attending dysfunctionals. That the filmís body count is higher than most slasher movies doesnít help lend an air of romance either. The cast seems awfully pained, but they all emerge as something resembling likable by the filmís end. A surprising amount of the sap that weíre offered sticks, and the schizoid wives and euthanasia tend to fade into the background as all wrongs right themselves and everyone leaves predictably fulfilled.  



Jeremy Heilman