Screened at Berlin (Competition). Dir: Lone Scherfig. Denmark. 2000. 118mins.

Judging by the applause and peels of laughter that greeted the press screenings this week for Lone Scherfig's Italian For Beginners at Berlin, a festival where such spontaneous outbursts are rare, it is clear that there is plenty of life yet in Denmark's Dogme95 school of low-budget digital video filmmaking.

Indeed, any lingering suspicions that this back-to-basics movement fathered more than five years ago by maverick Lars von Trier was dead after inspiring twelve films including those from Trier himself (The Idiots), Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration), Soren Kragh Jaobsen (Mifune) and Kristian Levring (The King is Alive), would have been decisively scotched by the bidding war that erupted over this charmingly engaging romantic fable. Just days into the festival, Miramax Films paid what is thought to have been $600,000 for the US, Mexican and English-speaking Canadian rights, beating off several other contenders including USA Films.

If nothing else, Scherfig has proved that the somewhat monastic rules drawn up by von Trier and co need not deny a film its crowd-pleasing, even feel-good potential. Far from it. In fact, with its simple fairy-tale qualities, Italian For Beginners teeters on the edge of breaking one of the charter's cardinal rules forbidding genre films such as romantic comedies, while at the same time maintaining enough of the tragic and melancholic to qualify it as a genuine article of Dogme faith.

Moreover, both audiences and critics alike will surely appreciate the hand-held cinematography of Joergen Johansson, which is much more subdued than the head-spinning, occasionally nauseating, camerawork of The Celebration. The result is a much calmer, more lightweight new generation of Dogme film, albeit one still devoid of visual frills - for such aestheticism would also have violated the rule-book.

Like previous Dogme films, Italian For Beginners provides a showcase for a strong ensemble of actors whose performances stand out here. Their story kicks off when a young substitute minister (Anders W Bertelsen), who recently lost his wife, arrives in a small grey suburb. Here he encounters a group of lonely hearts, and is soon persuaded to join them in an evening class for learning Italian.

The script gives this cast of characters plenty of improvisational scope, and it is obvious that most of the parts have been written with the specific actors in mind. Without appearing contrived, the film recounts the stories of this group of young thirtysomethings, a group comprised of everyone from a waitress and a baker to a hairdresser and a restauranteur, who are still struggling with pressure from their parents, and have a hard time finding and believing in themselves.

At is best, the film elegantly mixes in both humour and heartfelt sadness, without overdoing either. The film will certainly seal the reputation of Scherfig, whose previous two features - The Birthday Trip and On Our Own - both screened at Berlin but attracted less attention. Tipped to finish its run with as many as 700,000 admissions in Denmark, Italian For Beginners has already sold for a higher price than any of its Dogme forebears including Mifune, another Berlin sensation two years ago.

Prod co: Zentropa Entertainment. Int'l sales: Trust Film Sales. Prod: Ib Tardini. Scr: Lone Scherfig. DoP: Joergen Johansson. Sound: Rune Palving. Ed: Gerd Tjur. Main cast: Peter Gantzler, Anders W Bertelsen, Anette Stovelbaek, Ann Leonora Jorgensen, Lars Kaalund, Sara Indio Jensen.