Rite What You Know

The movie's buildup may be bigger than its denouement—Cedar's producer evidently cut a final shot that would have upped the emotional ante—but Time of Favor nonetheless remains an effective piece of filmmaking. More than that, it seems utterly faithful to the imaginative life of its fantastic locale. Where else—except perhaps in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan—could a lovesick, jealous bookworm hope to trigger World War III?


A confirmed film festival crowd-pleaser, Lone Scherfig's Italian for Beginners is a funny, relationship-driven ensemble piece that takes the chill out of the Danish winter with a snuggly blanket of humanism.

A Rorschach test for the viewer’s sympathies: Dayan and Tinkerbell in Time of Favor
photo: kino international
A Rorschach test for the viewer’s sympathies: Dayan and Tinkerbell in Time of Favor

Details

Time of Favor
Written and directed by
Joseph Cedar
Kino International
Opens January 18

Italian for Beginners
Written and directed by
Lone Scherfig
Miramax
Opens January 18

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Scherfig's third feature is the first Dogme film to be directed by a woman, and it's by far the tendency's most benign example. A youngish, recently widowed, Maserati-driving pastor (Anders W. Berthelsen) takes over a diminished congregation in a drab Copenhagen suburb and, amid a flurry of introductory scenes, falls in with (and, ultimately, helps sort out) a crowd of mildly eccentric, somewhat vulnerable thirtysomething singles. Four of the movie's six main characters are taking Italian lessons at a community night school—the remaining two principals are Italian, albeit played by Danish actors. (To the degree that the movie has a subtext, it might be that these "new Danes" have brought a welcome Mediterranean passion to a less hospitable clime.)

This shaggy lamb-flock roundelay, a Miramax release, has been trimmed by some 12 minutes since it was last seen here at the New York Film Festival. Still, Dogmatist Lars von Trier will be pleased to know that no seasonal music or lite rock has been added to the background track; the Dogme "vow of chastity" is clearly in effect. Scherfig's handheld camerawork is moderately hectic. A few jump cuts aside, however, the greatest violence is emotional—specifically in the unhappy parent-child relations that serve to mute the film's latent sitcom narrative. Similarly, the plot's comic mix-ups and unlikely complications are naturalized by the application of the Dogme documentary aesthetic, more working-class here than usual, and tempered by a pervasive sense of mortality. (There are fewer weddings in this comedy than funerals.)

Although the performances are energetic, with plenty of drinking, there's none of the outrageous "spassing" that characterized previous films released under the Dogme imprimatur. The generous spirit of Jean Renoir has been much invoked recently in relation to Robert Altman's enjoyable, if overpraised, Gosford Park. I'd hesitate to make such claims for a tea cozy like this, but although slighter and less showy than Altman's ensemble piece, Italian for Beginners is actually closer to the empathetic Renoir world of transcendent camaraderie, where the ordinary is beatified and even villains have their reasons.

Heartwarmingly predicated on second chances and last-minute redemptions, Scherfig's human comedy is sweet and cuddly, but not nearly as sentimental as it might have been. You'd need to be a tougher cookie than me to resist the pastor's helpless, benevolent gaze (and surprise tattoo) or the Italian beauty's inexplicable but radiant devotion to a bumbling Dane a dozen years her senior.

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