Italian for Beginners (Danish: Italiensk for begyndere) is a 2000 Danish romantic comedy film written and directed by Lone Scherfig. The film stars Anders W. Berthelsen, Lars Kaalund and Peter Gantzler, together with Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Anette Støvelbæk and Sara Indrio Jensen. The film was made by the austere principles of the Dogme 95 movement, including the use of hand held video cameras and natural lighting, and is known as Dogme XII. However, in contrast to most Dogme films which are harsh and serious in tone, Italian for Beginners is a light-hearted comedy. Made on a low budget of $600,000, the film ranks as the most profitable Scandinavian film in history.
In May 2010, it was officially revealed that writer-director Scherfig "borrowed" part of her plot from the Irish novel Evening Class by Maeve Binchy. Zentropa agreed to pay a non-disclosed compensation to Binchy.
Andreas, a widowed pastor, arrives in a Danish suburb to take over religious duties from the previous pastor who, due to a crisis of faith after his own wife's death, has become irreligious and even punched the organist causing him to be hospitalized. Believing his stay will be temporary Andreas stays in the local hotel where he meets one of the employees, Jørgen Mortensen, who is suffering a crisis as he has been asked to fire the temperamental Hal-Finn who works in the hotel restaurant and is also his best friend.
Hal-Finn goes to visit hairdresser Karen and is immediately attracted to her, though his visit is cut short when she must go to the hospital to attend to her alcoholic mother.
Meanwhile clumsy baker Olympia tends to her disabled and abusive father, who constantly berates her. Olympia decides to join a beginner Italian class in order to feel closer to her Italian mother however the first night she joins the instructor dies. Olympia returns home to find that her own father has died as well. Sometime later she receives the call that her estranged mother has died as well. Showing up to her funeral she meets Karen and the two discover that they are sisters and that their parents split them up when they divorced. In order to protect Olympia, Karen does not tell her about the fact that their mother was not Italian and was an alcoholic.
After finally being fired for being rude to customers Hal-Finn becomes the Italian teacher and Olympia persuades both Andreas and her sister to join. Karen and Hal-Finn begin a romantic affair but during Christmas Karen overhears Hal-Finn disparaging her mother and becomes angry calling their relationship off.
Jørgen Mortensen approaches Andreas for advice about his impotence and his trouble talking to Hal-Finn's Italian friend Giulia and decides to ask her out for a walk.
In the meantime Olympia receives a letter from the bank telling her of a massive inheritance from her father. She decides to spend it taking the Italian class to Venice. In Venice Jørgen proposes to Giulia who accepts, Karen forgives Hal-Finn after he cuts off his too-long bangs and Andreas proposes that Olympia, whose klutzy behaviour has caused her to be fired from 43 jobs, suggests she come to work as a chorister. He then reveals that he plans to stay in the parish.Anders W. Berthelsen as Andreas
Anette Støvelbæk as Olympia
Ann Eleonora Jørgensen as Karen
Peter Gantzler as Jørgen Mortensen
Lars Kaalund as Hal-Finn
Sara Indrio Jensen as Giulia
Karen-Lise Mynster as Kirsten, the real estate dealer
Rikke Wölck as Lise, the nurse
Elsebeth Steentoft as Kirketjener
Bent Mejding as Reverend Wredmann
Lene Tiemroth as Karen's Mother
Claus Gerving as Klaus Graversen
Jesper Christensen as Olympia's Father
The film won the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the Golden Spike Award for the best film of the year at the Seminci film festival in Valladolid, Spain, and the Audience Award at the Warsaw International Film Festival in Poland. Peter Gantzler won the award for Best Actor at the Seminci festival. The film also won the Gold Dolphin (Best Film) at the Festroia International Film Festival in 2001. It currently holds an 88% certified "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.Mette Hjort, Lone Scherfig's Italian for Beginners, Museum Tusculanum Press, 2010. ISBN 978-87-635-3483-3.