Despite considerable technical craft and powerhouse thesps, script fails to connect emotionally.

For their fourth feature together, “Little Soldier,” Danish helmer Annette K. Olesen and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson (“Minor Mishaps,” “In Your Hands,” “1:1″) combine two timely, potentially interesting social issues — disturbed former soldiers and prostitution — with a troubled father-daughter relationship drama. Despite the pic’s considerable technical craft and involvement of powerhouse thesps, however, the earnest, overly schematic script fails to connect emotionally. This “Soldier” is most likely to march into ancillary.

Raised by her grandparents after her mother’s death, tough, mannish-looking Lotte (Trine Dyrholm) clearly has unresolved issues with her unreliable father Kurt (Finn Nielsen), and still longs for his approval and affection. Their interaction, full of shoulder punches, good-humored wrestling and shoving one-upmanship, visually codes as masculine.

Needing money after abruptly leaving the Danish armed forces in Afghanistan, Lotte asks her dad for a loan. Instead he offers her work as a driver, and she winds up as the chauffeur/protector for Kurt’s gorgeous mistress Lily (Lorna Brown), one of the Nigerian prostitutes he pimps as a side to his legit hauling biz.

Script continually stresses that the women have chosen their work for economic reasons, something that will rile some audience members.

Although Lotte initially displays jealousy over the attention Kurt showers on ultra-feminine Lily (who clings to him and calls him Papa), she soon discovers Lily’s looks and attitude serve as a defensive covering not so different from those she had to assume in the army. Ultimately, the two “little soldiers” form an uneasy bond that the script takes in some unconvincing directions.

Armored with high-necked jackets and bulky leathers, Dyrholm (regarded as Denmark’s biggest female star) gives a tamped-down, almost unlikable performance. Visibly bulkier than in past parts, she’s credible as a former soldier whose punch could break the nose of a prostitute’s creepy client.

In what’s essentially a three-hander, Danish vet Nielsen is fine as the petty criminal father, who claims he’s doing the prostitutes a favor because “Nigeria’s a dump.” However, the pic’s strongest screen presence comes from sparky English TV actress Brown, a real find.

Pro tech package is led by colly colored visuals that contrast with overhead shots of the peaceful Danish countryside with more intimate scenes of everyday desperation in anonymous-looking offices, apartments and hotel rooms.

Little Soldier

Denmark

Production

A Zentropa Entertainments, 18 production, in collaboration with the Danish Film Institute, DR TV, Nordisk Film & TV Fund, Film i Vast, SVT, with the support of the Media Plus Program of the European Community. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by Ib Tardini. Executive producers, Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Peter Garde. Directed by Annette K. Olesen. Screenplay, Kim Fupz Aakeson, Olesen.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Camilla Hjelm Knudsen; editor, Jacob Thuesen; music, Kare Bjreke; production designer, Soren Gam; costume designer, Helle Nielsen; sound (Dolby Digital), Mick Raaschou, Rasmus Winther Jensen. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 6, 2009. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Trine Dyrholm, Finn Nielsen, Lorna Brown. (Danish, English, Swedish dialogue)

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