Film Comment declared Denmark's Dogma movement dead two years ago, and yet here is Lone Scherfig's Italian for Beginners, another anti-Hollywood hair shirt of a movie, prepared to enlighten and entertain us. That it mostly does the latter suggests that 1995's Dogma manifesto, which some regarded as a breath of fresh air, others as a publicity stunt, may favor style over content. The jittery camera, the "bad" lighting and framing, the sense of real life being caught on the fly ' all these give Dogma films a certain quality, but they don't guarantee...quality. I enjoyed Italian for Beginners. But if other Dogma films seem strung together, this one seems flung together.
We're in Copenhagen, I believe, and we're going to spend some time with a loose group of Danes who come together once a week for their Italian lesson. They're a little on the dour side, especially Lars Kaalund's Kal-Finn, a restaurant manager who greets his customers with lines like "Don't put your teaspoon on the tablecloth, you pig!" But the very fact that our Danish "Friends" are taking Italian indicates that they'd like to learn how to speak the language of love. Even Anders Berthelsen's Andreas, a Protestant minister whose wife recently committed suicide, would like to say arrivederci to the past, buon giorno to the present.
Will he get his wish? You betcha.
A romantic comedy from a part of the world known for its suicide rate, Italian for Beginners could be called Four Funerals and a Wedding. The movie seems haunted by death, two of its female characters losing parents to alcoholism and cancer. And if that doesn't strike you as the stuff of comedy, rest assured that, when one of the characters hits the jackpot, the whole lot of them are off to Venice, where their Northern temperaments slowly melt in the sun. Jackpots aren't something we associate with Dogma films. Nor are startling revelations like the one that occurs to those two female characters. But instead of burying this unassuming Dogma film, maybe we should praise it, if only for not being so dogmatic.