March 14, 2002


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What’s so lovely about the Danish film Italian for Beginners is how quaint and unpretentious it is. If it were any more complicated, it would fly completely over the heads of us simpleton English-speaking folk. Italian, after all, comes partly in Danish and partly in Italian. But every word, every syllable arrives with utmost importance. The dialogue is so raw, so natural, so stripped of its superficiality that Italian’s 99 minutes feels like more than two hours.

Italian is essentially a tangled story of romance wrapped by a shell of charming dark comedy. It is about six dissimilar people living their lonely, hapless lives in a tiny Danish village.They all suffer through their miserable jobs all in unrequited hope of finding romance along the way. With no other diversions on hand, they all independently enroll in a popular Italian class. (Hearing Danish people try to speak in Italian, by the way, offers endless amounts of amusement!)

Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen), the new temporary pastor in town — unwittingly becomes the film’s central figure. Whether it’s lending a shoulder to cry on (during two funerals, no less) or listening to grown men complain about their impotency, he functions as the local psychologist.

Ironically, though Andreas himself could use an emotional crouch —