Italian for Beginners (Italiensk for begyndere)


There will be no Yankie on his cranky.

There will be no Yankie on his cranky.

(2000) Romantic Comedy (Miramax) Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Stovelbaek, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen, Peter Gantzler, Lars Kaalund, Sara Indrio Jensen, Karen-Lise Mynster, Rikke Wolck, Elsebeth Steentoft, Bent Mejding, Lene Tiemroth, Claus Gerving, Jesper Christensen, Carlo Barsotti, Matteo Valese, Susanne Oldenburg, Steen Svare, Alex Nyborg Madsen. Directed by Lone Scherfig

Finding love particularly when you reach a certain age can be devastating. You are already pock-marked with the scars of failed romances and broken hearts and letting others close can be tricky. For some, confidence has been so completely lost in one’s ability to be an adequate lover that even talking to someone they have a crush on can be a monumental task.

In a small Danish town there seems to be an epidemic of that kind of thing. Andreas (Berthelsen) however isn’t really on the lookout for love; he is recently widowed. A pastor, he’s been sent to the town to temporarily minister to the flock of the disgraced former Reverend Wredmann (Mejding) who heckles him mercilessly at the pulpit.

He has moved into the hotel managed by Jorgen Mortensen (Gantzler) who has been given the task to fire his close friend Hal-Finn (Kaalund) who manages the hotel’s bar but seems clinically unable to be nice to people. Jorgen can’t really bring himself to do it. He also has fallen hard for Giulia (Jensen), the comely waitress in the bar who speaks no Danish. Hal-Finn advises Jorgen to attend the beginning Italian class at the local adult education center but when the teacher (Valese) dies suddenly, the class is left without a teacher and because attendance is nearly non-existent there really isn’t much inspiration for anyone to step in and take over.

In the class is Karen (Jorgensen) the local hairdresser who is the caretaker for an elderly mother with dementia and Olympia (Stovelbaek), a pastry chef who takes clumsy to new standards. All six of these lost and lonely people will find each other in a class where not only are they learning a new language but learning to love as well.

Scherfig was the first woman in the influential Danish cinematic movement Dogme 95. Basically advocates of stripping down film to its basics, Dogme 95 eschew camera tricks, post-production and special effects in favor of hand-held cameras, live music during filming and concentration on story and character. It is a precursor to other similar movements including mumblecore.

Most of the Danish Dogme 95 films prior to this were melancholic affairs in the Scandinavian ethos. That Scherfig went the romantic comedy route was a bit surprising and controversial (fellow Dogme 95 adherent Lars von Trier criticized her for filming a story about romance that had resolution but Scherfig replied that this was her style) but the way she approaches her movie certainly seems to fall within the parameters of the style.

These are definitely realistic people, some (in the case of the boorish Hal-Finn) less nice than others. Jorgen is shy and a bit plodding in his romance of Giulia while Andreas’ slow warming to Olympia is handled with what seems to be a great deal of affection on the part of the director. In fact, she seems to have a lot of affection for all her characters – in an interview, she has said that while most audiences want to be like the characters onscreen, her onscreen characters want to be like the audience. Here, she succeeds in that attempt.

Most of the actors are unfamiliar to American audiences at any rate but they all create characters with a good deal of depth and a good deal of realism. Likely you’d find yourself being irritated at Hal-Finn while watching a sporting event in the pub, while you might snicker at Olympia’s klutziness in the local pastry shop, or feel sympathy for Karen as she tells you about her mother’s latest and how hard it is to find good men around here.

That’s really where this film excels, in creating an atmosphere that’s familiar and heart-warming. You feel like you’re a part of the town and that these are people that even if you don’t know well are at least familiar to you in your day-to-day life. We are given a little bit of insight into who they are and how they live and in doing so we find that they are not all that unfamiliar to how we live and who we are. Inside like that is much more valuable than it appears to be on the surface of it.

WHY RENT THIS: Believable characters and story. Sweetness, heart and a touch of real people trying to find love and reinvent themselves.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too low-key for some.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some salty words here and there as well as some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: To date the highest grossing Danish film in the American market.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.4M on a $1M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: O’Horten

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Underworld

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One Day


One Day

Jim Sturgess finds that when he closes his eyes he really can't find Anne Hathaway's mouth.

(2011) Romance (Focus) Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Romola Garai, Rafe Spall, Jodie Whittaker, Tom Mison, Heida Reed, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Georgia King, Emelia Jones. Directed by Lone Scherfig

Our lives are a series of 24 hour periods, stretching from birth to death. Taken as a whole, they form our life. Individually they may not have the same meaning, but it only takes a single day to change our lives forever.

Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) meet on July 15, 1988 – the date of their college graduation in Edinburgh. They hit it off and almost have sex but it doesn’t quite work out so they decide to stay friends. Their friendship takes them through diverging paths in life; Dexter becomes a TV presenter whose mother (Clarkson) is ill and whose father (Stott) can’t stand him. Emma’s bright-eyed idealism gives way to world-weary cynicism as she gets stuck in a job she can’t stand. Emma and Dexter drift further apart as she struggles to find herself and he becomes lost in stardom.

They seem to be moving on into different relationships; Emma with Ian (Spall), a failed stand-up comic and Dexter with Sylvie (Garai), with whom he has a daughter Jasmine (Jones). Emma’s career begins to take off as a teacher; Dexter’s declines after a series of woeful teen countdown programs in which his growing addiction to alcohol and drugs begins to affect his work, while his age begins to slam doors in his face.

Soon it becomes evident to both of them that they are far better together than they are separately – the sum greater than the parts. Has too much water flown beneath the bridge for them ever to get together?

This is based on a book by David Nicholls (who also wrote the screenplay) and is directed by Scherfig, the Swedish director who in 2009 won acclaim for his movie An Education. This is a disappointment of a movie; one which has two of the most appealing actors in Hollywood and squanders them. It’s quite a shame too; if this had been executed better it might have been a solid movie.

The problem with the movie is the problem that comes from the novel it’s based on – the two main characters spend nearly the entire movie apart. The whole conceit of the movie is that we are encountering the two main characters on July 15th every year (or in some cases every second year) from the day they first meet. Because we don’t see the characters together as much, there is no time for them to develop chemistry together.

One gets the feeling that Hathaway has moved on from roles like this. She has Oscar-caliber talent, evidenced in movies like Love and Other Drugs. Emma is not a role really suited for her. For one thing it forces her to adopt both a Scottish and a Yorkshire accent, which drifts during the course of the movie. It never sounds convincing to my ear; quite frankly I think the movie would have been better served to have cast a British actress in the role (and there are a lot of good ones).

Sturgess has to play an absolute rotter at times and he pulls it off; his disarming grin and boyish good looks aiding him in his portrayal. I hope he continues to get romantic leads because he is uncommonly good at them. Clarkson, like Hathaway, is a very fine actress who again is saddled with an unconvincing British accent. She’s a fine actress but couldn’t she and Hathaway just have been re-written to be Americans? Or have British actresses cast in those roles?

A bit of a spoiler follows here although to any sensible moviegoer it won’t come as much of a surprise. One of the central moments of the movie is the moment when Emma decides that her feelings for Dexter are stronger than she admitted they were and that she truly loves him and needs him. It’s a moment that comes off abrupt and schmaltzy, going from “We’re friends and I don’t have any interest in you romantically in the least” to “You’re the love of my life” in a matter of moments. It’s like a car with bad brakes trying to stop on a dime.

Curiously, the movie gets better in a lot of ways from there, even if it descends into general romantic grab a box of Kleenex territory. Once Hathaway and Sturgess get more time together, the movie really elevates. It’s too bad for most of the first hour or so they’re too busy denying their feelings and saying to all and sundry that they’re just friends. Too much time hitting us over the head with the idea that they’re better together than apart – and then they don’t have enough time together to seal the deal. You never fully get the sense that there’s chemistry between the two.

I really wanted to like this movie because it has not only two of my favorite actors in it but also a director who has an exciting future ahead of him and a high-concept way of looking at a 20-year-romance. It should have come together but unfortunately for a variety of reasons it didn’t. All the beautiful Scottish scenery and longing wistful looks from a pair of attractive actors can’t save a movie from its own shortcomings.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful scenery of Edinburgh and the north of England looks beautiful onscreen.

REASONS TO STAY: Never get a sense that the couple is actually good for each other. Relationship moves abruptly, a very jarring feeling for the audience.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and a bit of nudity. There’s also a bit of violence, and a smattering of bad language. There is also some depiction of substance abuse, drugs and alcohol.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to set the mood for the skinny dipping scene, Hathaway mooned Sturgess, unaware that there was an apartment complex behind her with many of the residents filming the shoot with mobile phone cams. To date, the footage hasn’t surfaced on the Internet which Hathaway has expressed gratitude to the complex residents whom she expressed had “class”.

HOME OR THEATER: A definite cuddling on the couch movie.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Takers