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Customer Review

15 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Watching Paint Dry for Beginners, December 7, 2002
This review is from: Italian for Beginners (DVD)
Back in the early `90s, when I was tooling about making home movies as a lark, and NEVER taking any of it seriously, I had NO idea that I had actually stumbled upon a method of filmmaking that very soon would be touted as THE method of the true, bona fide "auteur" (or, more accurately according to the tenets of the "method" used in this film, the "ANTI-auteur"), and that one day I would be watching "Italian for Beginners," directed by (well, credit for the directing cannot be given, as it would be against the "rules," which I will get to in a moment) and filmed in much the same-- in fact, the EXACT same-- style that I had employed back in what I now know were MY "auteur" (excuse me; my "ANTI-auteur") days. But having watched this film, the evidence is irrefutable; I know, because I've just finished watching the movies I shot back then with my trusty camcorder to get a comparison. And all I can say now is: "STAND ASIDE AND GIVE ME ROOM-- I'M ON MY WAY TO SUNDANCE!"
In 1995, Danish filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg developed a new (?) filmmaking technique, for which they co-wrote a back-to-basics guide entitled "Dogma 95," a manifesto for filmmakers who, by adhering to the rules set forth in the text, would become a part of the "newest" new wave to hit the industry, subsequently referred to as the "Cinema of Poverty," and with good reason.
If you're thinking of giving this film a go, before you watch it you MUST know something about Dogma 95 to have a chance in the hot place of making it through to the end. There are ten "rules" set forth in the manifesto, as well as an addendum, a handful of items tacked on (afterthoughts?), such as "I am no longer an artist" (which after watching this film I fully understand and agree with). But the main things (rules) you must know going in are these: The movie must be filmed on location, with only a hand-held camera and using only whatever light is naturally available. And "music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot." (Somewhat contradictorily, two of Von Trier's subsequent films were musicals; his disclaimer: "The rules are not meant to `limit' creativity, but to `spur it on'). Rule #10 states: "The director must not be credited." In retrospect, the wisdom of THIS rule is beyond reproach.
There IS some substance to this story, imbued as it is with elements of classic Bergman as it examines "loss" on a number of levels through the lives of a small, diverse group of individuals in various stages of disenfranchisement. Their common denominator is the class in, well...Italian for beginners, to which they seemingly gravitate, each with their own specific reasons and motivations. The class becomes a kind of focal point for them; it is here that relationships are formed or honed, and their lives begin to intersect. Now, had only Bergman been on hand to direct them.
These are everyday folks, just going about the business of living; and quite frankly, they aren't all that interesting, nor are their respective stories. The group includes Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund), an obnoxious restaurant employee who hasn't as yet caught on to the "customer/employee" dynamic-- he's self-absorbed, rude and insufferable; Jorgen (Peter Gantzler) lacks self confidence; Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen) a hairdresser who never seems to be able to finish a client (Hal-Finn is in her chair at least three times, but never gets past the hair-wetting phase before some crisis or other calls Karen away, sending poor Hal-Finn away each time with a wet head and no haircut); Olympia (Anette Stovelbaek) who works in a bakery, where no doubt she sells danish (pun intended; I have nothing to lose at this point); and Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen), a pastor who has taken a temporary assignment six months after the death of his wife. But listening to the thoughts (and I intentionally do not use the term "ideas" here) of a randomly selected group of postal employees on the dock at 3 a.m. at the post office would be intrinsically more interesting than anything that occurs in this film. Berthelsen, especially, spends the entire movie looking confused, like he's a contestant on Jeopardy! but can't figure out why Alex keeps giving him the answers instead of the questions. Or maybe he's just trying to understand what he's doing in this film to begin with. Where, oh where, is Ingmar when you need him?
On a positive note, the performances here are for the most part quite natural, if not engaging. Kaalund, at least, makes a lasting impression with a character reminiscent of Rutger Hauer's Eric Vonk in "Turkish Delight" (aka "Turk's Fruit"), from 1973; perhaps that's why Hal-Finn is always getting in "Dutch" with his boss (again, pun intended).
The supporting cast includes Sara Indrio Jensen (Giulia), Jesper Christensen (Olympia's Father), Lene Tiemroth (Karen's Mother) and Carlo Barsotti (Marcello). There are those who are going to like, even applaud, this film; personally, I'd rather watch paint dry. To connect with this film one has to be able to embrace, or at least get beyond, the whole Dogma 95 thing. I couldn't. Okay, perhaps I just don't "get" it; to this day I still don't get the Andy Warhol "soup can" deal, either. Just know that "Italian for Beginners" is definitely NOT going to be for everyone. I do find it interesting that the "rules" are also referred to as the filmmakers "Vows of chastity," and that in reviews of Dogma 95 films the terms "chaste," "austere" and "pure" always seem to surface. In the great scheme of things I know it means something; what it is, I don't know. But bear in mind that the manifesto also states, "Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste!" And with that, I rest my case.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 30, 2009 10:57:21 AM PDT
Excellent review.
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