3/25/2007

ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS



In May I am going to Italy for ten days. The last time I was there was in 1972. I spent the second semester of my Junior year in college with Syracuse University's Program Abroad in Firenze. It was a defining period of my life and left me pretty much loving all things Italian. But it's about movies that I wish to talk. So, che cosa e il collegamento? The connection is that since I commenced planning this upcoming viaggio, I have been searching for movies connected with Italy and the Italian language at my Blockbuster.com site.
Years ago, 2001, to be exact, a movie called Italian for Beginners opened in the US. I wanted to see it as soon as I learned about it, but it must have had a limited release and I did not get the chance to see it in the theaters, so I put it on my video/DVD to see list. My friend, Kathy, who is often my Mentor for new life experiences ( she is the one who originally sent me an email from the organization with whom I am travelling to Italy), informed me that the movie wasn't what it would appear to be and perhaps not what I was hoping to see. It thus became less than a priority on my to see list. However, when it once again showed up on a search for Italy and Italian, I pushed it up to the top of my Blockbuster.com cue.


Italian for Beginners is not a movie for the conventional movie watcher. In fact, after just a few minutes of it, I was fairly certain it was not a movie for me. In my attempts to fast foward, I somehow lost the Subtitles function and found myself watching a movie in Danish, which I obviously could not understand and which to me looked like a poorly filmed Soap Opera or maybe a home movie. I actually thought that I was watching something other than the movie and tried to restart it. In so doing, I rediscovered the subtitles function and began the movie, yet again, only to mistakenly push a button on the remote that made the screen go gray. Utterly frustrated, my technical skills leaving much to be desired, my body and eyes rapidly fatiguing, I thought it best to turn in for the night. I decided that for me, this film was not meant to be.
The next day, taking a break from apartment cleaning, I sat down and absentmindedly began playing with the confounding television remotes and, to my surprise, the movie miraculously started up, exactly at the point where it had ended the night before. OK, so I was meant to watch it!



Here's how one site, About.com, described the filming technique used to get the effect that I previiously described as Soap Opera-ish or Home Movie-ish:
"Italian for beginners...and love for losers." That's another tagline for the film known as Italiensk for Begyndere in its original language. The movie adheres to the rigorous aesthetic principles of the Dogme '95 Manifesto , which insist on a hand–held camera, natural light, and shooting on location to create "a fresh method of filmmaking and allows the script and improvisations to provide the spontaneity while celebrating the characters and the actor."
I guess I wasn't so far off describing it as a HomeMovie, but as it turns out that is a good thing.


Why do we enjoy watching movies so much? I think one reason is that it gives us the opportunity to stare at people, especially their faces. It allows us to notice the slight and subtle things people do with their eyes and their facial muscles. We get to watch their mouths as they go from neutral to a downward frown, where, with the eyes, you can see honest emotion. In movies we can study their faces without any self-consciousness and I think this is what elicits within us our own depth of emotion. What we recognize on their faces is the universality of human emotions, how we all feel them and what they look like on our human faces. This movie, Italian for Beginners, went from being a confusing, unwatchable home movie, to a reminder of how much I love watching movies, especially when they are made so well.


As a sidenote, I will mention hear a bit more about the trip on which I will embark in May.
The organization planning the trip is called Classical Pursuits :Learning Vacations With a Difference. The name of the trip itself is To Hell and Back with Dante: The Flowering of the Late Middle Ages in Italy
The group will consist of about 12 people and there will be a literary focus on Dante's, The Divine Comedy. Two of Dante's contemporaries in the late 1200's, Giotto, the painter and St. Francis of Assisi, will also be discussed and will help inform our adventures as we discover Florence, Assisi, Siena and Fiesole. As well as reading the assigned chapters in The Divine Comedy, I am trying to do a bit of research on my own. I came across a fascinating article, Dante between Hope and Despair: The Tradition of Lamentations in the Divine Comedy by
Ronald L. Martinez. It not only connects Dante with St. Francis, and Thomas Aquinas and Dante with the Book of Lamentations, but also relates Dante and the late Middle Ages with the Jewish people and Israel. What more could I ask for?

BELLA CIAO!

1 comment:

Amishav said...

Hey Sherril- hope your trip turns out better than your dreams of it!

And I love reading Dante. My favorite book is Purgatario. Not as weird as Inferno, but more interesting than Paradiso. In the meanwhile- enjoy your language and movie lessons.

Sorry I haven't commented sooner- I've been rather self absorbed.