GETTING CLEAN

By Peter Hempstead

"A Soap "
Directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen
Starring Trine Dyrholm, David Dencik

Probably one of the most unusual love stories you're likely to see this year, the Danish film "A Soap" has all the quirky twists of your average daytime melodrama. But what Pernille Fischer Christensen does here in this, her first feature, is to create two characters who rise from the often absurd world of the soap opera and become recognizable people despite their over-the-top relationship.

After Charlotte, played with gusto by Trine Dyrholm, breaks up with her obsessive boyfriend, Kristian (Frank Thiel), she moves into an apartment upstairs from Veronica (David Dencik), a pre-op transsexual. While Charlotte engages in a series of one-night stands, Veronica provides fetishist services for his all-male clientele. One night, Charlotte finds Veronica unconscious and near death from taking a handful of sleeping pills. While Veronica recovers in the hospital, Charlotte takes in Veronica's little dog (the film's real scene stealer). The kind gesture begins their strange friendship.

Christensen does a wonderful job of establishing the awkward relationship between extroverted Charlotte and retiring Veronica, filming their scenes in a kind of Dogma-esque style with the jerky intimacy of a handheld camera. Their friendship has its bumps along the way, but it is solidified when Kristian attacks Charlotte, and Veronica proves that he can duke it out with the best of them when he has to.

Given the confused lives and sexual ambiguity of the two main characters, it's almost inevitable that things will escalate to a level of intimacy beyond exchanging girl talk. What's remarkable is that Christensen takes what appears to be an impossibly unlikely premise and makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world--well, almost.

The performances by Dyrholm and Dencik are sharp and unflagging. The voiceover by a male narrator provides lighthearted commentary on the film's action, just so that we don't forget the comic element that's present in the high drama, as if Christensen wants to remind us that in the soap opera of life, there's always room for laughter.

Not a groundbreaking or terribly remarkable film, "A Soap" still delivers a provocative story about a kind of love most of us have never imagined.

(As Part of New Directors/New Films it screened at MoMA on March 25 2006 pm and at the Walter Reade TheaterWalter Reade on March 27 2006.)

[courtesy Hargrove Entertainment Syndicate/Lucky Girl Media]