Italian, not just for beginners

Christina Franzi

There are plenty of new beginnings here at Villanova this fall: the start of classes, heavier workloads, new friendships and budding romances. Another set of beginnings occurs at the Cultural Film & Lecture Series this weekend.

One might think it impossible to find love in a classroom, but this week the CFS presents “Italian for Beginners.” This lighthearted romantic comedy focuses on six lonely people living in a small Danish town, who find their lives are intertwined when they all attend a weekly Italian class. The small group, which includes a klutz who’s been through several jobs, a hot-tempered short-order cook, a pastor who’s new in town and a beautician looking for love, might seem, at first, to be an unlikely bunch, but their shared attraction to the Italian language turns out to be a fulcrum for their relationships to flourish.

This optimistic Danish film is as much a traditional romantic comedy as it is a documentary-style feature. The writer/director of “Beginners,” Lone Scherfig, is an adherent of Dogme 95, a group of Scandinavian filmmakers dedicated to making movies as simply as possible, without the glitz and glamour of a traditional Hollywood production. Dogme directors hold fast to their beliefs by making movies with more novelty, intimacy and authenticity than the usual big studio productions, which they feel hinder the storytelling. These filmmakers shoot on-location, only use props that are already present, and employ only natural lighting. They also don’t re-record dialogues and musical score.

“Italian for Beginners,” which is the 12th Dogme production, is not only the first Dogme romance, but also the first helmed by a woman. As one reviewer quipped, “Imagine Nora Ephron (who directed “Sleepless in Seattle”) with a hand-held camera and no soundtrack, and you begin to approach the feel of this sweet and often darkly funny look at damaged souls.”

Scherfig commented in an interview that there are no villains in her story. In fact, unlike most movies in which the audience wants to be like the characters, in this film the characters want to be like the audience. The film presents everyday people who are slightly overweight, shy and unkempt. In other words, “Beginners” is a story filled with interesting people who are easy to relate to.

“Beginners,” which is in Danish and Italian with English subtitles, will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Sept. 13 at 7 p.m., Sept. 14 at 3:30 & 7 p.m., and Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.  Admission is $3 with a student ID and $4 for all others.  

The Monday screening features guest speaker Mark Mussari, who teaches in the Villanova’s core humanities program. He will introduce the film and then lead a discussion, “Italian Hearts in Danish Souls,” after the viewing period.