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Fleas Bark Too, Don’t They?

The top Danish film at the local box office last year, besting "Breaking the Waves," this teenage comedy-drama from the team that made "The Great Day on the Beach" is a modest delight, and distinguished by a glowing performance from newcomer Christina Brix Christensen in the lead role. This has a good chance of specialized distribution in some territories, with Eurotube programmers also likely customers. Casting the principal role of 13-year-old Rosa in a film version of Jens Peter Larsen's novel was particularly difficult because Rosa has only one leg; Christensen, who is identically afflicted, was discovered after a major search. Though she'd never acted before, she gives a natural and radiant performance as a pubescent girl only too well aware that her handicap is going to make things like going to dances and dating boys especially difficult.

With:
Rosa ..... Christina Brix Christensen Father ..... Niels Hausgaard Rimkjaer ..... Erik Clausen Kobmand Jorgensen ..... Leif Sylvester Mother ..... Anne Margrethe Dahl Nana ..... Charlotte Sieling Mads ..... Andreas Franck Henriette ..... Camille B. Kaasby-Wang Ellen ..... Lone Helmer Teacher ..... Ghita Lehrmann

Story unfolds in the small North Jutland coastal town of Logstor. Rosa lives there with her father, a painter who never manages to sell a painting. Her mother, an opera singer, left some years earlier. Background to Rosa’s disability is never specified, and, indeed, it’s some time before the viewer is aware that the child has only one leg. She gets around very well on an artificial gam, riding a bike (she makes deliveries for the corner store) and walking quite naturally. She even puts several boys to shame by climbing a tree to rescue a frightened kitten. When she casually removes her artificial leg, it’s an eye-opener.

Rosa is pretty, brave and resourceful, but she has lofty ambitions that aren’t easily fulfilled. For one thing, she wants to play the lead of St. Lucia in the local Christmas pageant, and tells everyone she meets that she’s been given the part. But the schoolteacher prefers Henriette, the class princess. Henriette is also Rosa’s rival for the affections of Mads, the most popular boy in school. Adding to her woes, Rosa’s growing at such a rate that she needs a new artificial leg; the old one has begun to squeak as she walks, which is embarrassing. But her dad never quite gets around to ordering a new one.

In the hands of screenwriter Erik Clausen, well known for his socially aware films about the working classes, and veteran Swedish director Stellan Olsson, this unusually tart teen comedy unfolds smoothly, with just the right blend of comedy and sentiment. A gallery of interesting secondary characters, including Clausen as a lonely ex-sailor who befriends Rosa, adds to the enjoyment. Rosa is a delightful character, old beyond her years, absurdly optimistic, but lonely and frightened about the future. The role is touchingly played and interestingly developed; in the end, the cliches that might easily have crept into the narrative are neatly avoided, and the final scene is genuinely affirmative and uplifting.

Hasse Welin’s top-flight camerawork makes excellent use of the picturesque little town that is Rosa’s entire world, and all other tech credits are pristine. This is a modest family film of considerable charm and distinction.

Fleas Bark Too, Don't They?

Danish

Production: An ASA Film production, with the support of the Danish Film Institute, Nordisk Film, Danmarks Radio. (International sales: Nordisk Film, Copenhagen.) Produced by Henrik Moller-Sorensen. Directed by Stellan Olsson. Screenplay, Erik Clausen, based on the novel by Jens Peder Larsen.

Crew: Camera (color), Hasse Welin; editor, Ghita Beckendorff; music, Andy Pape; production design, Palle Arestrup; sound (Dolby digital), Leif Jensen; casting, Jette Termann. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 19, 1997. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: Rosa ..... Christina Brix Christensen Father ..... Niels Hausgaard Rimkjaer ..... Erik Clausen Kobmand Jorgensen ..... Leif Sylvester Mother ..... Anne Margrethe Dahl Nana ..... Charlotte Sieling Mads ..... Andreas Franck Henriette ..... Camille B. Kaasby-Wang Ellen ..... Lone Helmer Teacher ..... Ghita Lehrmann

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