A Danish film from 2001 billed as a "romantic comedy", Italian for Beginners is not really a comedy at all, but a nice introspective look into our hearts and minds, where all are looking for something and find it through and because of community.
Filmed in single camera style, this has that low budget indie look to it, with some very abrupt editing as scene after scene cuts to tell the stories of a group of charactors in a Danish town. Dispite the editing and film style the director does a very nice job of keeping your eye interested by subtle use of closeups - not necessarily of faces, but hand gestures and such.
What makes this film fly is earnest acting and a wonderful story that shows the viewer the many charactors and then weaves them together through not only a series of funerals, but an Italian class (hence the title). I felt that the way in which all the charators seemed to move in their own arcs and yet all came together was reminiscent of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, from a decade earlier.
What this film has going for it, is its honesty and the almost brutally naked way in which the charactors are portrayed - just real people, living real lives.
I can't really give a shout out to the actors - as it's often hard to get into nuance when you're reading subtitles - and I often found it surreal to be reading along and then realizing that the charactors had switched from speaking Danish, to speaking Italian (which they had learned in the class). However I will say that, while there are no big emotional scenes (except one which I will mention in just a bit), the lonliness and ofttimes dispair comes through easily.
There is a wonderful dramatic scene that speaks volumes about the heart of this film (and why it really isn't a comedy at all). The parish Vicar has recently lost his wife to cancer, and while he loses his parish, he is allowed to stay on and live in the vicary. When the new priest arrives, he cat calls through his sermon, saying that God is an abstraction.
When the new priest later confronts the old vicar, the old vicar states "God took my wife, and my wife took my God". A wounded soul if ever there was one - and the new priest can only respond that the vicar needs to move on with his life (assuming that God will right all wrongs, etc). This is all he can say, as he has recently lost his own wife - and FOUND God in the process - a contrast between light and dark, optimism and the abyss. Not the stuff of romantic comedy, is it?