Even though the main protagonists in En Soap a.k.a Soap (2006), a Danish production mimicking the once trendy Dogme movement, constantly watch American soap operas its subject matter is anything but soapy. The film follows the story of a shy and obviously hurt transsexual (Veronica, David Dencik) and an emotionally battered owner of a beauty salon (Charlotte, Trine Dyrholm) living in a large apartment complex as they struggle to mend their lives.
For Veronica life has always been a never-ending marathon of enduring and overcoming what nature has gotten wrong: her sex. Denounced by her father and only occasionally visited by her mother Veronica makes a living by meeting the needs of clients with unusual requests. In her tiny apartment, also shared by the incredibly smart poodle Miss Daisy, she is often paid to be a mistress.
Charlotte has decided to move away from her ambitious boyfriend and provide a fresh start to her life. Ecstatic at first the 32-year old quickly realizes that being single comes with a lot more responsibilities and sacrifices than initially anticipated. Eager to fill up the gap left by her partner Charlotte adopts a reckless lifestyle where cohorts of men pass through her bedroom. Instead of emotional satisfaction, however, the quick sexual interludes cause even stronger pain.
When Veronica attempts to commit suicide and Charlotte saves her life the two neighbors begin a most unusual romance where nothing is what it seems.
Utilizing an unconventional episodic structure where a male voice-over introduces different fragments from the story, both past and future, Soap reaches far and for the most part delivers. The lack of sugary sentimentality in a story that certainly welcomes such assists the viewer in embracing the main protagonists with all of their struggles. From the emotional to the spiritual turmoil Charlotte and Veronica deal with Soap does a good job of being as realistic as possible.
Unlike fellow Scandinavian director Lukas Moodysson (Container), however, whose most recent work has become more and more minimalistic bordering self-destructive nihilism Pernille Fischer Christensen, the director of Soap, remains fairly balanced with her camera. There is enough flesh and blood in this Danish production to keep those willing to experiment with alternative cinema interested without frustrating them. In fact, it is fair to say that if complex storytelling with rich characters is what you look for in modern cinema then Soap is definitely a work deserving of your attention.
Pernille Fischer Christensen with the Silver Bear at the Berlinale in 2006
Soap is a product of the sponsored by the Danish Film Institute ambitious New Danish Screen whose goal is to encourage and promote creativity amongst young Danish film directors.
How Does the DVD Look?
Each time I receive a new disc from Strand Releasing I have mixed feelings in me: I am incredibly impressed and utterly disappointed at the same time!! Impressed, because the company has one of the most diverse film catalogs amongst R1 distribs (when it comes to cutting-edge contemporary foreign cinema there are very few that side next to Strand Releasing) and someone in Strand clearly understands what "quality cinema" entails. Disappointed, because I can not believe that Strand's production department keeps churning out all these mediocre discs that anyone interested in owning the films they contain will likely look elsewhere to acquire a proper copy.
So, if anyone from Strand reads these reviews (and I know they are) I would like to say the following:
If you could reconsider your current practice of improperly converting your films (that would mean avoid PAL-NTSC ports and have your discs both properly flagged for progressive-scan and properly mastered) clearly you will capture a whole new base of potential customers who at this moment will likely look overseas to obtain better product! As far as I am concerned the ball is in your hands, deal with it! You've got all the right ingredients to be a great distrib we will respect not only for the quality films you introduce to these shores but for the great technical treatment they receive as well! MAKE IT HAPPEN!!
Soap is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 but sadly has not been enhanced for widescreen TVs. The print as already partially suggested above is likely a port of the Danish non-English friendly release and as such appears to be in fairly steady condition. The color scheme is acceptable but the sharp and vivid look which many may expect from this film isn't here. Contrast, due to the Dogme-inspired camera work, varies yet I am willing to accept that what this disc reveals is fairly accurate. Edge-enhancement on the other hand remains an issue here and especially during the second half of the film you will likely notice it. Finally, there is indeed enough "ghosting" here, a byproduct of the improper conversion, which you must endure. To sum it all up it is rather unfortunate that a better treatment for this film was not provided, plain and simple!!
How Does the DVD Sound?
Provided with a DD Danish track the audio treatment is acceptable but not spectacular. Dialog is easy to follow and I did not detect any intrusive issues such as pop-ups or hissing. Sadly, English subtitles are fixed which adds another notch of disappointment to an already lackluster release.
Aside from a gallery of trailers for other Strand release there is nothing else to be found on this disc.
I made my feelings about this DVD fairly clear (read above). It is a shame that such original film has received such mediocre treatment. Soap comes highly-recommended, the DVD...I leave it up to you to decide!