Italian for Beginners
The trouble with "Italian for Beginners" starts early. Though billed as a romantic comedy, the movie soon reveals that director Lone Sherfig's notion of "character development" loosely translates to "let's take a moment to watch my parents die." Before you know it, the deceased are stacking up higher than outside a Georgia crematorium, and confused couples in the audience have begun wandering to the lobby to ask if they're in the right theater -- you know, the one playing the "romantic comedy"?
Sherfig does eventually gets to the story, and once the funerals are dispatched with, it's time for our language students to start stealing glances at each other and learning how to conjugate "amore." The setting is Copenhagen, a city marked by long silences, long faces, grey streets and stark, depressing interiors designed by misanthropic government architects. Create an unholy crossbreed between your local Department of Motor Vehicles and an IKEA, bathe the whole mess in gloom-o-vision and you've pretty much got the look. The Italian lessons are supposed to provide a sunny escape for our forlorn characters, but are overpowered by the turd-colored landscape and the sheer evil that is Danish Modern.
The romantic interactions in the film are awkward enough to be right at home on any junior high dance floor. On the male side of the room we have: sports bar manager Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund), who needs a woman to soothe his angry countenance; new pastor Andreas (Anders Berthelsen), who needs a woman to help him get over the death of his wife; and ungainly concierge Jorgen (Peter Gantzler) whose impending midlife crisis cries out for a shot of Viagra. On the female side of the room, we have: hairdresser Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen), whose soothing touch can ease the angriest of countenances; the clumsy baker girl Olympia (Anette Stovelbek) looking for a needful pastor to steady her hand; and the young Italian waitress, Viagrina (Sara Indrio Jensen).
Can you possibly guess what happens next? Will three Tab As neatly find three Slot Bs? "Italian for Beginners" basically turns into an episode of "Love Boat," right down to the trio of constituent subplots and the "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl" storylines. This movie is supposed to be the latest example of Danish cinema's "Dogme 95" movement that emphases natural lighting, settings and situations, but I don't go to the movies to be reminded how stark and warty real life really is. That I can get by going to Georgia.
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