Film review: A Soap has artsy Bergman-esque overtones

By Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives Film & TV Critic

SAN FRANCISCO — A Soap is a 2006 Danish film about two women. Charlotte (Trine Dyrholm) has walked away from an unfulfilling relationship with a man, Kristian (Frank Thiel). Charlotte’s downstairs neighbor, Veronica (David Dencik), is a transgender woman impatiently awaiting the approval for GRS from the health department.

Charlotte owns a successful beauty salon. The film opens with Charlotte walking around her new apartment. Everything is still in boxes and her bed needs to be moved. She had lived with Kristian for four years when she decided to call it quits. When he was away on business, she packed up and left with no explanation. Talk about being dumped! It left me feeling that this is one cold-hearted woman.

Kristian soon arrives; Charlotte asked him to come over because she needed help moving furniture. He is upset since this is their first meeting since she walked out. It’s a strange encounter and gives you a hint as to the reasons for her sudden departure. No furniture is moved.

Veronica’s life is also a mess. She awaits her GRS approval letter; her family has rejected her with the exception of her mother (Elsibith Steentoft), who still calls her by her former male name. Her father can’t stand the mention of her name.

Veronica supplements her disability pension by doing sex work on the side. Her specialty is playing out kinky sex fantasies with her male clientele. As her first customer proves, nothing is too disgusting.

Since Kristan wouldn’t help her move furniture, Charlotte calls on her downstairs neighbor. Veronica agrees and while they’re doing that, Charlotte makes a joke about her wig. She also says there’s a “big strong man in there.” Of course, Veronica is hurt and walks out. This relationship is off to a rocky start, but each will prove to be the other’s salvation.

This was a difficult movie for me to watch. The lead characters seem rather cold and not especially likable. Charlotte dumped Kristian seemingly on a whim. Veronica is whiney and self-destructive. But these two damaged people manage to help each other; if not happily ever, after at least for awhile. They do become likable as the walls they’ve built around themselves start to come down.

If you like Ingmar Bergman films, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It’s very much a European-style art film. It moves very slowly and doesn’t have a lot of action; the story is all in the dialogue. It’s set in two apartments and a stairwell.

I can see that transgender people may have some difficulties with this film. First, David Dencik is not a transgender actor. There is, however, a reason for that. The transition process hasn’t made many physical changes in Veronica’s body. She sports a wig and has a heavy beard, the stubble of which is visible throughout the movie.

The specifics of male-to-female transition are inaccurate unless Denmark has vastly different requirements than WAPAC. A recent suicide attempt would definitely slow down a trip to the surgeon for GRS. Charlotte asks questions and makes statements that many trans people would find offensive. She does this out of ignorance not malice.

If you enjoy art films take a look at this one. In Danish and English with subtitles.

It’s streaming on Amazon Instant Video for US $2.99

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