by Annika Pham
- A striking feature debut by the new visionary Danish filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen
Released early July in Italy through Teodora Film and soon on French, Dutch and Portuguese screens, A Soap [+see also:
interview: Lars Bredo Rahbek
interview: Pernille Fischer Christensen
film profile] is the compelling portrayal of two lonely and vulnerable people, a single woman and her transsexual neighbor who gradually learn to know, accept and love each other.
Danes had all the good reasons to have a bubbly celebration at the last Berlin Film Festival: Pernille Fischer Christensen, a rising star among the new generation of Danish filmmakers was welcomed with glowing reviews for her directorial debut A Soap which ended up winning a Silver Bear and Best First Feature Film and became one of the hottest titles at the market. But the film also made headlines as the first offspring of the Danish Film Institute’s New Danish Screen, a low budget film production scheme of risk capital, aimed at encouraging innovation. The freshly buried Dogme had an heir in this new uncompromising filmmaking language and concept ready to convert international filmmakers, and its first representative –Pernille Fischer Christensen- showed she was proud to walk on the footsteps of the likes of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.
Tailor-made for the New Danish Screen scheme with a tight €900,000 budget, A Soap is the quintessential illustration of the idea that through limitation comes creativity. Supported from the outset by experienced producer Lars Bredo Rahbek from Nimbus Film and scriptwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson, Pernille set herself the challenge to explore the idea of gender confusion in a relatively simple love story. A recent meeting with a transvestite for a research on a script had left her ill at ease but also totally fascinated by her inability to communicate with a person whose gender she couldn’t determine and had convinced her that this was going to be the raw material for her first feature film.
Told like a soap opera with a voice-over introducing each new part of its four acts, A Soap is thus the portrayal of two lost souls, 32 year-old Charlotte (Trine Dyrholm) and her downstairs neighbor, a transsexual named Veronika (David Dencik). Charlotte who works as a nurse, has just dumped her boyfriend Kristian, a young doctor, but is still very confused about her feelings towards him and men in general. Her new apartment with bare white walls and unopened boxes everywhere is the setting for loveless nights spent with unknown men and sometimes Kristian who still tries to win her back. Meanwhile Veronica is killing time with his favorite TV soap opera and sex sessions with paying customers, desperately waiting for a letter allowing him to have a sex change operation. His mother (Elsebeth Steentoft) sometimes pays him a visit, but is unable to cope with her son’s challenging sexuality and miserable life. A series of dramatic events -an assault on Charlotte and a suicide attempt by Veronica- as well as joyful moments -the making of new curtains-gradually strengthen the ties between the two characters who learn to know, accept, like, and perhaps even love each other.
Turning the usual concepts of falling in love and what makes a man a man or a woman a woman upside down, the film delves directly into what it means to be a human being. In other words, the bare expression of senses, of feelings and desires to be loved for what we are. Using Dogma-like techniques such as a hand held camera and close and medium shots, the director gives plenty of room to the two actors Trine Dyrholm and David Dencik to find the magic in each scene and transmit it to the audience. Dyrholm, launched on the international scene with Thomas Vinterberg’s Dogme film The Celebration in 1998, offers another raw and convincing performance and David Dencik in his first major screen role, raises to the challenge of playing a transsexual, conveying the fragility of Veronica with the right dose of subtlety that only a gifted actor can offer.
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