Italian for Beginners is a precious little Danish film (2002) about a group of lonely misfits searching for sanctuary, connection, and purpose in an Italian language class taught at their local community center during the dead of one Copenhagen winter.
There’s nothing like pouring your heart out to someone who doesn’t speak your language. This is what Jorgen, a shy, insecure hotel manager, does to Giulia, a pretty young Italian girl who cooks at the hotel’s restaurant, one day when he just can’t hold back anymore. She speaks no Danish. He speaks no Italian, which is why he took the class in the first place.
As if that’s going to help. His friend Halvfinn, partially fluent in Italian, assures Jorgen his quest for Giulia is hopeless. “You don’t speak Italian.”
“But it’s the feelings that count.”
The reason Halvfinn speaks Italian is due to his obsession with the Italian football team Juventus. A failed footballer himself, he goes about his work as a manager of the restaurant where Giulia cooks, carrying with him a seething anger, exploding at customers for behaving like beasts. It’s not long before he’s fired.
When the Italian insegnante suddenly drops dead, Halvfinn takes over teaching the class, clad in a black and white striped jersey, and turns out to have a knack for it.
Repeat after me.
“To throw. Buttare”
“To whistle. Fischiare”
Translations embedded in my subconscious, I was disconcerted to discover. My Italian for the day, check.
You have to endure a few deaths, an abusive father, an alcoholic mother, lots of funerals, an abundance of grieving. All the while romance blooms, breathing life into anyone and everyone, even you. There are some very touching moments. “When someone dies, how long is it before you can fall in love?” asks the clumsy, soft-spoken Olympia, who has fallen for the new Pastor.
However long it takes you to fall in love, I think, would be the answer.
I’ve tried the class. Imagine being in kindergarten again, memorizing the alphabet and learning how to conjugate the verb to be, only you’re an adult, in a room with other adults. On one level it’s silly, kind of fun, good for the soul stuff. On the other, you might look around and wonder. Why are we here? Our language stripped from us, our security, our sense of direction, our purpose, this abyss? Our brains are no longer supple, and we are weary from the long journey that’s led us here. Will we ever even get to this place we seek to know?
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