LADIES ON THE ROCKS (KOKS I KULISSEN)
(director/writer: Christian Braad Thomsen; screenwriters: original story by Christian Braad Thomsen/Anne Marie Helger; cinematographers: Dirk Bruel/Fritz Schröder; editor: Greta Moldrup; cast: Anne Marie Helger (Laura), Helle Ryslinge (Micha), Flemming Quist Møller (Leonard), Hans Henrik Clemensen (Hans-Henrik); Runtime: 110; Danish Film Studio / Danish Film Institute / Kommuenefilm; 1983-Denmark)
“Allows you to feel the pains of the girls who are still searching for their own identities.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The two girls, probably in their mid-twenties, Micha (Ryslinge) and Laura (Helger), have a variety revue act, which they named “Ladies Trip”, where they do comic skits with strong sexual innuendos. They perform their musical act in various nightclubs, bars, and meeting halls across Denmark.
Micha is single and is disillusioned with her circumstances; she feels that life has dealt her some bad cards to play, as her life is a game of losing hands. She is looking forward to something more romantic in her life and can’t find it in the men she goes out with. Leonard (Møller) is her rock ‘n’ roll musician boyfriend who likes her because she is a good bang but finds he has nothing else in common and treats her with disrespect. Micha feels like an addict who is addicted sexually to this guy, whom she knows is no good but she can’t do anything to get him out of her system while hating herself for being weak-minded. Laura, on the other hand, is in an upper-class marriage, living a very comfortable existence with her stable business executive husband and two sweet daughters. Laura’s husband treats her act as a hobby, and seems to offer her all the creature comforts of what an ideal nuclear family should have. According to appearances, Laura seems to have it all in her favor.
Micha and Laura go on a long tour, both happy to get away from their unhappy environment.
This is fundamentally a feminist oriented road movie without the politics of the Movement playing a part in the story, as the film is steeped in personal irony over abandonment of loved ones and fantasies that can’t become real. It doesn’t have any particular message to deliver, except that these two have their hands full coping with their life.
On their first stop, Micha and Laura give a bawdy performance in the library and are then asked to stay after and answer questions from the audience. Since they consider themselves artists they feel their act speaks for itself and are particularly upset at being blind sided by one hostile viewer of their show, an overweight lady who feels that they made fun of how obese women look in their act; she feels they did a disservice to women who have that problem. This upsets them.
The film emphasizes how the girls relate to each other on the road and how they deal with their personal lives. Micha is still hard-pressed to find a true romantic relationship and Laura is confused about who she is.
Micha angrily questions the bourgeois patrons who invite them for an after-the-show snack, asking them how they can justify making most of the money off their work and yet look down upon them with a snobbish attitude.
Laura has retreated to the basement with their patron’s elderly father who has a passion for trains and runs his model trains to imitate the Danish train system, even to the point of its lateness of schedule. Since the family treats him as someone not to be taken seriously yet it is quite evident that he, alone, has a real love for something that the bourgeois in his family just don’t have.
We see how tough the road is for the girls. They make toast on their hotel’s radiator and how they bring a piss pail along with them because some of the places where they play don’t have bathrooms, and we see how uncomfortable they feel on the constant move and cast as outsiders.
Their comic act begins to get more bitter and more sexually revealing as their lives begin spinning out of control, though Micha and Laura take comfort that their act is working and they are playing to mostly sold-out houses.
When Hans-Henrik (Clemensen), the very middle-class husband of Laura, catches one of their shows and takes Laura out to eat in a fancy restaurant that she is most uncomfortable in, their relationship is at last shown to be the sham it is. He questions the explicit sexual kinkiness of her act and the lowbrow humor it arouses, ashamed if any one in his office would see a wife of his in such a third-rate show.
It is hard to say for sure what the film is crying out to say from all the self-discoveries that keep happening to the girls, except pointing out that it is hard to do your thing and especially so if you are a female.
This thought-provoking film touched many different themes with equal breath and veracity, but this also highlighted its most glaring weakness that it couldn’t focus on any one theme completely. It mostly questioned middle-class values and the need for one to find a way to express oneself. Yet it left so many other things unanswered that it brought up, that you could write your own movie from all that was left unsaid about the girls and their situation.
Ultimately, the road itself must be considered the goal of the trip and this engaging film allows you to feel the pains of the girls who are still searching for their own identities. Even as the film ends with the weary girls wondering what’s next as they finish their act and are sitting where the audience sat moments before, you get the feeling that things will somehow or other work out for them — that these are some pretty tough gals.
REVIEWED ON 5/5/99 GRADE: B