Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Soap (En Soap)

A SOAP (En Soap)                  A-                   
Denmark  Sweden  (104 mi)  2006  d:  Pernille Fischer Christensen

One has to go back to Volker Spengler’s magnificent performance in Fassbinder’s In a Year of 13 Moons (In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden... (1978) to see a transsexual portrayed with such probing depth.  But that film has a searing anguish, haunted by a pervading sense of death that hovers over every aspect of that film.  This film is more about the loneliness and desperation of disconnected souls, almost like a primer for the various phases of love, how it’s a circuitous route before one fully understands its ramifications.  This is a beautifully realized chamber drama that moves effortlessly back and forth between austere realism and quirky comedy, that largely takes place in two apartments, one on top of the other in the same building.  Slow in developing, using chapter titles with a brief black and white grainy visual that ends in a still image, as a humorous narrator with a voice like Christopher Lee relishes telling us in brief a recap, including a hint of what’s yet to come, inviting us to stay tuned, like a serial series, as chamber music plays in the background.  Also, there is a familiar shot of a cherry blossom tree in different stages of bloom, shot in different lights, like the passing of the seasons.    

Actually this film features sensational performances from the two leads in this film, with each contending for the performances of the year.  Trine Dyrholm plays Charlotte, a blunt-spoken, free spirited thirtyish owner of a beauty salon who, with no backdrop to the story, moves out on her long-term boyfriend Kristian just as he passes his residency to become a doctor, which begins a series of one night stands with guys that in her eyes just can’t get enough of themselves, finding the male species insufferably boring.  She loves the sex but can’t wait for them to disappear.  Just below her lives Ulrik, a transsexual who goes by the name of Veronica, in a rare performance by David Dencik, who is just waiting for a letter to arrive authorizing the sex change to become a woman.  Meanwhile she lives with her dog Miss Daisy watching television soap operas, has occasional visits from her mother bringing various treats, visits kept secret from her father who refuses to acknowledge her existence, and a few forlorn men who come for dominatrix-style humiliation and quick sex. 

Initially the two neighbors get off on the wrong foot, as Charlotte exhibits incendiary language thinking it’s no more than cutting-through-the-bull flirtation, but eventually they develop an odd respect for one another on each other’s own terms, something they each find otherwise near impossible, and in doing so, open up avenues for the viewer.  It’s an extremely delicate matter with natural humor and a realist texture, expressed non-verbally through smiles, quick glances, and facial expressions with only scant background music, as Veronica goes through bouts with suicidal depression, but her intact sensitivity is alarmingly real to Charlotte, who obviously could use a bit of it after a broken relationship of her own.  Magnus Jarlbo and Sebastian Öberg wrote a quiet understated score that rarely intrudes and is in perfect balance with the subtle eloquence of the film.

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