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Dustin Hoffman antagonizes Italy.

Dustin Hoffman antagonizes Italy. (photo)

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It’s a time-honored practice for actors to go abroad to get paid to appear in ads they be much too ashamed to support at home. And so it was, presumably, that Dustin Hoffman came to Italy in search of some hard-earned euros, his cameo in “Little Fockers” having fallen apart.

Like Bill Murray in “Lost In Translation” — and numerous real people — Hoffman arrived in pursuit of a paycheck more honest than most: he was to recite Giacomo Leopardi’s poem “The Infinite” and walk through Le Marche, the whole ordeal to be filmed as a tourist spot for the region.

“The Infinite” is a melancholy work, in which the speaker describes a beloved landscape that leads him to muse on mortality: “in this immensity / my thoughts are drowned, and shipwreck seems sweet / to me in this sea.” This, perhaps, is a gloomy way to promote tourism — come to Le Marche to experience despair in the vastness! — but one that seems oddly appropriate, at least if all the stereotypes about voluble and melancholy Italians are true.

You can watch Hoffman in a rough cut of the ad on YouTube. It doesn’t take an expert’s ear to hear that he’s butchering the language, causing considerable controversy in Italy. I’m not Italian, but I’ve seen their movies, and it’s clear that the commercial is the sound of an exceptionally conscientious actor not pretending to have mastered an accent but doing his best to say “pensiere” and “dolce” without drawing embarrassment to himself.

01042010_hoffman4.jpgHe did, and it was interesting to read that — in a presumably slow news week in Berlusconi’s Italy, which really should never be short on scandal — the populace (or at least their newspapers) were outraged. “The commitment is there,” Reuters reports one Corriere della Sera critic wrote, but said commitment “cannot fill up the astronomical distance from the Italian ear.” The mayor of the area had an admittedly imaginative response: “The difficulty that Hoffman finds in the recitation could symbolize the more universal one of coming closer to an unknown culture.”

I’ve always associated Hoffman with the ’70s Method wonder duo of De Niro and Pacino, even though he shot out of the gate earlier than either, lasted longer as a hitmaker and wasn’t Italian-American. Which begs the question of why he was invited to come out as the best spokesman for an Italian region being marketed to Italians.

One answer, I suppose, is that Hoffman’s no stranger to Italian advertising (see below). Another might be that the ad — in frankly perverse ways — dramatizes his struggle with the Italian language (“No no no!” he yells at one point), possibly as a way of emphasizing that once one struggles with Le Marche, then one achieves transcendence.

Foreign commercials with actors are a dime a dozen, but — at 72 — Hoffman doesn’t need this kind of pain and criticism (I hope, anyway). Does Hoffman have some kind of cult following left over from 1972’s “Alfredo, Alfredo” I don’t know about?

Here’s Dustin Hoffman shilling, self-deprecatingly, for Italian coffee, with his struggles with Italian culture once again foregrounded:

[Photos: Dustin Hoffman’s Italian ad, Marche Region Tourism Department, 2010]

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

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Wedding Planners

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Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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