This is a Dogma 95 film, adhering to the code of stripped-down filmmaking originally advocated by Danish director Lars von Trier and a few of his equally ambitious peers. This means that the color looks a little faded, the camera is often handheld, seemingly random jump-cuts abound and no extraneous music is on the soundtrack (supposedly Dogma 95 directors are known to cheat on the premise now and then). Some people object to Dogma 95 on the grounds of pretension, which is a little like objecting to cheesecake on the grounds of sweetness — pretension, in the sense of a style which calls attention to itself, is built into the concept.
There have only been five Dogma 95 films and it’s my contention that the grimmer the material, the more effective the approach is. Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark and Thomas Vinterberg’s screwed-up family melodrama, The Celebration, benefited from this added gloss of alienation with their arrhythmic poking at the viewer’s aesthetic eye. But with Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune, which was essentially a romantic comedy, it felt like a layer that had to be peeled away to get to the film’s small core.
More layer-peeling is required for writer-director Lone Scherfig’s Italian for Beginners in order to get to its pleasantly inconsequential story of three couples fated to eventually get together. The film follows them in their individual lives and at their common meeting ground, a class where they’re all learning Italian. The characters are mostly sympathetic, the situations mostly low-keyed and believable. It’s a combination of the charming (as love prevails) and the grotesque (as the Dogma 95 style casts its baleful gaze): At one point, a woman comes home to find her elderly father has died — with his head thrown back and mouth agape, he looks like something from one of Ingmar Bergman’s grislier nightmares.
Italian for Beginners is being touted as a saucy romp, but you should be warned that the sauce has a few poison mushrooms in it. Proceed with caution.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at email@example.com.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.
Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.
Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.
Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.