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January 17, 2002
Danish for Beginners. There are

Danish for Beginners.
There are hardly movies with Subtitles in Germany. Every movie seems to be dubbed. When in Germany, I had the opportunity to see "Cast Away" dubbed, and then "Shrek", which is especially funny, because Schreck is the German Word for fright, scariness, fear, sometimes even Shock... how appropriate. Watching "Shrek" dubbed felt a bit like having one¹s parents decide to switch voices for an afternoon. Mom¹s voice becomes dad¹s voice and vice versa. Maybe, if you had a dog in your family, they could have just switched voices in some creative way. Mom could start growling, and the dog would just use dad¹s voice to say, "hey, hey, hey hey..." all afternoon long.
Nobody really barks in Shreck, but I somehow had the feeling that Tom Hanks in Cast Away and the donkey in Shrek were one and the same actor, oh and they both spoke German.
Ok, this is not the best example. It is rare that movies in Germany come with subtitles. Subtitles are something special. They are reserved for something we almost understand, like Schwitzerdütsch (Swiss German, one of the three Languages spoken in the country, where accounts have no names). I think this is how they are being used on American Television too. If we almost understand what somebody from a far away village says, then, just to make sure we know what is going on, there is a grammar corrected version as subtitles. Then there are those live subtitles, sponsored by your local Dodge dealers, which somebody actually types at the television station, but that is a different story.
I remember seeing Star Wars with subtitles, when I was maybe 8? It was a summer day in Bytom, in Poland and my Uncle Janek and I walked miles and miles to see this great movie. And it was great and it had subtitles, and I really knew the first 3 words of every scene. It was not so bad. It was pretty obvious what was going on and my Polish education of antique history was at that time good enough to make me predict the outcome of the entire movie, and the rest of the trilogy. (I could not predict JarJar Bings... He is really a Lucas creation.)
One feature of Polish television that I keep forgetting about and which throws me back into my childhood every single time I travel there, is the "Lector voice over". This one is really great. It is like being 5, sitting with your older brother in front of the television. He really wants to go out on with his friends, so he hates having to be there with you. But father grounded him, so now this really angry older brother has to read all the subtitles to you. All of them. He becomes the angry voice of every single character in the movie. And he hates it. So there might be a woman on screen, screaming and throwing dishes at this strange looking American guy, while your brother sadly proclaims "I hate you, and I am going back to my mother."
It seems to be always the same voice, always the same sad, sad voice. Absolutely no other emotion than sadness. A voice just loud enough to make it impossible to hear the original language if you actually understand it. It is a very unique experience. Kojak comes to my mind now, but I remember Dynasty as well, and yes, ALL of the characters in Dynasty had the same sad voice, of the same sad man. A lector. Oh, when the credits appear on screen, he just reveals his name. Same voice.

Enough. I am obviously going on and on about subtitles and voice-overs and all this was triggered by "ITALIENSK FOR BEGYNDERE", or "Italian for Beginners", a new Danish movie out in New York theaters on January 18th, expanding February 1st. (expanding... They will make the pie higher.) I was lucky enough to see a pre screening and yes, I do recommend this movie. The subtitle experience alone is worth it. The movie is in Danish, with English subtitles set in helvetica and in Italian, with English subtitles set in helvetica *italic!*.

Italian for Beginners is the 12th Dogma¹95 Movie. And since it is a Dogma¹95 Movie, the camera is never on a tripod, the ing is natural, the actors very spontaneous and natural. And because the movie is a Danish movie, it feels so incredibly different. The movie somehow does not feel like a movie at all. It is more like a sketch, with the lines just very, very slowly becoming more and more dense. We first see just s outlines of actions, characters and it takes time for real hues to develop, for anything to really touch the characters. All feels a bit grey emotionally, drawn with a really, really hard pencil.
Andreas (Anders W. Bertelsen, "Mifune"), a young, freshly widowed minister arrives in a small Danish suburb, to temporarily replace an old, crazy since widowed pastor. The suburb is inhabited by very sad characters, who, as a balance to their sad lives, take Italian lessons at the local community center. As the movie unfolds, each one of the characters finds a very special place for themselves, may these places even be on the opposite sides of the spectrum of life.
The movie starts off as a very , very rough sketch and it turns into a sweet and at times very funny happy human landscape.
I do not think I will ever be able to understand Danish. I wish I could see this movie and understand this harsh Language, the linguistic opposite of Italian, as it seems.
Please see this movie, if you have a chance. It is a good thing to support European cinema. Even if it feels so very, very unusual to the the average American viewer.
However, I do not think that an average American viewer would read this blog. Have a great evening.

Oh, right on time... The new Danish language set has just arrived for Mac osX.

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