Female Fighters for a Better World

in 54th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Angelika Kettelhack

Little Soldier, by the Danish director Annette K Olesen, was previously shown at this year’s Berlinale. Now it is the big winner at Seminci, the International Film Festival of Valladolid. Three of the major prizes from the international jury were awarded to women who worked hard on this film: Olesen received the Silver Spike for best director, the prize for best photography went to Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, and Trine Dyrholm was honored with the best actress award.

In Little Soldier, the attractive Dyrholm is not afraid to play Lotte, a completely disillusioned and traumatized soldier returning from an unspecified war. Confused – not sleek, not coiffed, not self-aware – she is unable to find order in her messed-up apartment. She cannot find a new job. Her father, who left her upbringing to her grandparents, wants to employ her as a chauffeur for an enterprise which he refers to as commercial intercourse. It turns out that he is buying and selling prostitutes to Scandinavian countries.

However, the Nigerian prostitutes, whom he pretends to help, do not want a female chauffeur. The sharp-tongued Lily, the father’s favorite girl, calls Lotte an ugly office tart. But Lotte, who has already fought for justice as a soldier, comes into her element when Lily is attacked. Lotte does not think about her own wellbeing, but acts tough when she has to defend someone else.

Olesen emphasizes that research is very necessary for her work, because of the real situations she depicts. She says, “You have to attend reality very sensitively… [so] that I can show my film to a soldier or to a prostitute and then they can tell me that they recognize themselves in the picture we have created about them.” This preference for simplicity and homeliness is maintained by camerawoman Knudsen: pure Dogme-style shots in HD underscore the sordid, gloomy and suffocating atmosphere.

While the film looks like quite a simple narrative at first, the scenes leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. This is particularly the case when Lily tells the father she is unhappy that Lotte has taken a lot of his attention, or when Lotte expresses her disapproval of the relationship between her elderly father and young Lily, who has left her child back in Africa. The gradual friendship between the two women is tenderly delineated when Lily can proudly say of Lotte, “She is a soldier. She can fight.”

When Lotte and Lily discover that they both carry invisible scars, the wild power of their friendship emerges. But there is a misunderstanding when Lotte steals money from her father to help send Lily back to her daughter in Nigeria. Lily is not yet ready to return – she cannot earn her own money because she has no education or qualification other than being a pretty woman.

According to Olesen, European societies do not offer an alternative to prostitution. Both Lily and Lotte suffer as a result. Society still capitalizes on the work of both women.

Edited by Lesley Chow