American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
What a masterstroke it was for Lars von Trier to invent the Dogma movement! Every review of a Dogma film must begin with the announcement that it is a Dogma film, and then put it to the Dogma test to see if it conforms. Von Trier's name is often mentioned more prominently than the name of the film's actual director. He exacts a tax on our attention to the film. Since most people reading reviews don't know what Dogma is and don't care, this discussion puts them off the movie. Wise Dogma directors should no more trumpet their affiliation than should a movie begin with an announcement of the film stock it was shot on.
I say this because "Italian for Beginners" is a charming Danish comedy, and the fact that it's a Dogma film has little to do with its appeal. Yes, like all Dogma films, it's shot on video, on location, with only music found at the source--but so what? You see how Dogma changes the subject. What is appealing about it, the freshness and quirkiness of its characters and their interlinked stories, has nothing to do with Dogma--although, of course, lower costs may have helped it get made.
The movie takes place near Copenhagen, mostly in a small complex that includes a sports facility, a restaurant, a hair salon and a nearby church. New to the church is Pastor Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen), taking the place of a former pastor who took his ideas about services a little too seriously (he pushed the organist off the balcony). Short tempers seem to run in this little community; we meet Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund), manager of the restaurant, who treats his job like a military command and is hilariously rude to customers who have bad manners.
Ordered to get a haircut, he meets the hairdresser Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen). Everyone seems to cross paths in Karen's salon, including Pastor Andreas, who stops in for a haircut and has to dispense emergency spiritual advice to Olympia (Anette Stovelbaek), a bakery employee who gets a crush on Andreas.