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Dogma chases karma
‘Italian For Beginners’ translates well
by Mark Anderson

aven't we been focus-grouped till hell won't have it? Aren't we wary of poll-taking disguised as public policy? Tired of vanilla radio and identical shopping malls in towns and cities across the land? Bored with laugh-tracked TV and the same, lame rehashed movies?

Doing it Dogma-style: no makeup or artificial lighting gives "Italian For Beginners" an earthy, true-to-life appeal.

Hollywood, according to an old joke, owns one typewriter and 2,000 copy machines.

If true, a collection of filmmakers named Dogma 95 is determined to undermine the problem. And Dogma-style filmmaking is gaining a reputation as the "Unplugged" of the moviemaking idiom.

This year's model is "Italian For Beginners" – a sprightly comedy most notable for what it does without. No music swells up to telegraph emotion, there are no elaborate sets and props, no porcelain-skinned actors and actresses.

What it does have is blemished faces and characters that are true to life. The woman who works at the bakery is born clumsy, the novice preacher is earnest but awkward and the bartender is a dick.

You quickly get used to the gritty locations, lack of makeup, natural lighting and handheld camera – and the movie takes on a realistic, earthy stripe. By movie's end you realize that, at least for longer than usual, these characters just might stick to your bones.

Dogma 95 began as a 1995 collective of filmmakers that met in Copenhagen and vowed to try to strip crass formula from what we see in movie theaters. The movement's godfather, Lars von Trier, has "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark" to his credit.

Location, location, location: Dogma-style means no sets or props.

So maybe I'm not a movie guy. I usually walk away at least a little disappointed – too predictable, not enough imagination, unrealistic, style over substance to the limit. Usually, I would've rather stayed home.

But while director Lone Schefrig's "Italian For Beginners" is not a great movie, it doesn't seem to strive for greatness. It just wants to be really good, and that's a large part of its appeal.

Essentially, it's a character study of three different kinds of love as experienced by six inner-city singles as they navigate believable measures of coincidence and everyday life. They meet at night class in effort to learn a little Italian; the story climaxes with a field trip to Venice.

Deeper still, the story hints at the easy-to-grasp but difficult-to-realize notion that the journey is the destination.

Despite a field trip to Venice, the journey is the destination.

"It's very funny, poignant and deceptively simple," said an actor-friend by way of recommendation. "It's kind of inspiring, too. You walk out thinking 'I could do that.' Although it's the sitting down and doing that's still the trick."

And that's getting closer to the point: Someday soon such a movie will pop out and it will be great. Then, not unlike the current scenario where home recording and file-sharing threaten to send recording companies the way of the buffalo, maybe the movie moguls will start to sweat – if they're not sweating already.

"Italian For Beginners" has been lingering in theaters and comes out in home-viewing formats this month. As the clock ticks, Hollywood might be wise to find a few different typewriters.

E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and see more tripewriter.

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