Dogme Gets Funny

Italian for beginners written and directed by Lone Scherfig, produced by Ib Tardini, with Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Stvelbk, Peter.

Italian for beginners written and directed by Lone Scherfig, produced by Ib Tardini, with Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Stvelbk, Peter Gantzler and Ann Eleonora Jrgensen. 118 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 70. Rating: NNNN

Rating: NNNNN

lone scherfig has the distinc-tion of being the first woman to direct a Dogme film, breaking into Nordic cinema’s most famous boys’ club. Her Italian For Beginners (see review, page 70) is easily the most “up” of all the Dogme works, which include Lars von Trier’s The Idiots, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration and Sren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune.

Italian For Beginners is about a group of unhappy Danes who come together for a night-school class. There’s a nasty-tempered bar manager who’s got a thing for the local hairdresser, a minister suffering a crisis of confidence and an accident-prone woman living with her ogre-like father.

“I’m a lot like my characters. I never felt I was a winner, so I feel quite safe around failure,” says Scherfig during last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “I’m a true pessimist, which is why I’m finding it much harder to handle the success that’s come because of my movie.”

Italian For Beginners continues to rack up critical kudos and is proving the most popular of the Dogme films. Dogme rules demand that directors follow strict guidelines prohibiting the use of extraneous equipment, editing or music, forcing them to focus more narrowly on characters and story. So far, the resulting films have been a refreshing change for those directors who’ve agreed to play along.

“The Dogme rules are prohibitive, but when you start working with them they are very inspiring, fun and not at all limiting.

“But my film is not supposed to look like what you think of as a Dogme film. You should forget about Dogme after the first couple of minutes. Forget about the rules. It’s like cooking. Diners don’t need to know the recipe to enjoy a good meal,” laughs Scherfig.

Italian For Beginners’ charm lies in the way these unlikely characters deal with their romantic entanglements. Its power comes from their relationships with their often horrible parents. This is a movie about people moving through that final stage of growing up when one confronts one’s parents as an adult.

“It’s a very important theme in this movie, being someone’s child when you’re an adult. It’s also about being stuck in a situation, moving out of it and turning yourself in a more positive direction,” says Scherfig.

“Because of the Dogme rules, I had a very good idea of what this film would look like, but it turned out funnier than I’d hoped,” recalls Scherfig. “I felt very confident working with these actors, so I wasn’t afraid to crack jokes.

“But there are times when you say, “No, this scene has to be sad. There’s a joke somewhere in the back of my head, but I shouldn’t listen to it because if I don’t take the film seriously, then I don’t take the audience seriously.’ And that’s when you make mistakes.”

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