Movie Reviews
11:44 am
Tue February 19, 2002

Italian for Beginners

On Valentine's Day I discovered the love story of the year so tender and tentative I was annoyed when one of the loving couples went at it rather than talk about it...

"Kate and Leopold" and "Charlotte Gray" put me in the mood for romance without cynicism, a rarity in the 21st century. But on Valentine's Day I discovered the love story of the year so tender and tentative I was annoyed when one of the loving couples went at it rather than talk about it.

"Italian for Beginners" has the simplicity of the beginning Italian class that sets up the multiple romances: the future lovers are unsure of each other the way they are about learning the language, the best learner in the class is the best sexual lover, and the slowest learners are the slowest to fulfill their loves but the deepest when they do. Does it sound as complicated as learning Italian? Well, yes, but it makes great melodrama and mirth.

The film follows no cliches until the end: the grieving temporary pastor has a Maserati but difficulty asking for a date; a hairdresser massages a head with unsurpassed sensuality, yet can’t complete a haircut or romance with her object of desire; an impotent older man finds love in a younger Catholic Italian girl, with whom he can’t even prove his cure until after marriage.

Audiences need to accept the jerky handheld camera and lack of special effects required in the Dogme 95 rules of a few European directors, but then audiences have to accept the subtitles of foreign films (none in this Danish production). Once into the rhythm of realism, the movie sweeps into the authenticity of flawed human beings pursuing flawed love affairs. You may not accept the romantic fantasy of Venice at the film's conclusion, but then if you’ve been to Venice you know that fantasy can be right for the right lovers. See "Italian for Beginners" if you feel like a beginner in the language of love.