The Film: Italian For Beginners [Italiensk for begyndere] – Denmark
Italian For Beginners takes place around Christmas in the cold of a Copenhagen suburb. This was my first, and unknowing, foray into Dogme 95 films which sought to purify filmmaking. The movement was started by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Their manifesto included how to shoot and what to shoot, though from the very beginning the movement’s own filmmakers confessed they had not strictly followed the rules. Still, the result of concentrating on story and character over technology — the insistence of not alienating the audience with overproduction is a truly, even seventeen years from its inception, a novel idea.
The style of filmmaking is reliant on handheld shots, deep emotions, great acting, and narrowed storytelling. Mumblecore owes a great deal to the Dogme movement. Both bear a strong indication that their creation was in direct reaction to something bigger. Von Trier and Vinterberg have both stated that they just wanted to establish a new extreme: “In a business of extremely high budgets, we figured we should balance the dynamic as much as possible.”
Italian For Beginners is a great film, even without any knowledge of the idea behind its existence. The bitter-sweet story is funny, charming, and romantic but it can also be hard to watch for the challenges the characters face. They’re beautiful and disheartening. Without the Hollywood soundtrack or other vanity driven filters, the film feels more like a reality show than entertainment. Which is why I don’t offer this wonderful film up to just anyone.
If you’re willing to watching it through, the reward is great.
I thought about this movie for weeks after I first watched it. My first viewing was on my own, but I had to talk about it. I needed someone else to watch it to discuss the depth I found, all the layers and reality I had been missing in mainstream film. The brilliant qualities I didn’t realize could exist in film.
Each character has their own problems which become crises and the mixing of these stories is what won my heart. The unexpected love, grieving, forgiveness, needs and wants, are incredibly realistic portraits of real human dealings and fill out the film with a rare sense of the truth of life. Not just life in the movie itself, life on this side of the screen.
Christmas Spirit: +4
The Food: Gingerbread Waffles
Breakfast for dinner is about as comforting as it gets. Today’s rain was as cold as it gets and I needed a warm night by the Christmas tree and a hearty dinner to feel human again.
Ever since I was given a Belgian waffle maker I’ve been trying various recipes. This one from Martha Stewart might well be my favorite. The texture is a little dense, but the spices, touch of molasses, and easy to make recipe make it a Winter winner!
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 4 large eggs
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup sour cream, or yogurt
- 3 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
Heat a waffle iron. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs, butter, milk, sour cream, and molasses in a medium bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, and whisk until smooth.
Spoon batter into your mold, following your maker’s directions. Cook until golden brown. Eat immediately or place in a low temperature oven to keep warm. I put on real maple syrup and a healthy dusting of cinnamon.
My plan is to have these Christmas morning so I let them cool on a wire rack and put them in the freezer. I was able to make 6 waffles from the batter. Next time — I’m making two batches!
Christimas Spirit: +5