The Soldier and Jenny
By Christian Monggaard, film critic and reviewer at Information, 2006
Shadows from the past
For a while two humble characters find each other and the desire to live in Johan Jacobsen’s moving and poetic love drama from post-war Copenhagen. Subtle humour is used to depict the period and the environment. But above all, the film’s depiction of two people - a common soldier and a young waitress, played by the superstars of that time, Poul Reichhardt and Bodil Kjer (see clip) - reflects black melancholy and despair. The soldier helps her and she is attracted to him and his awkwardness. Happiness seems to be within reach. But shadows from the past threaten to destroy the delicate idyll.
“The Lord’s patchwork” is how the soldier refers to the stream of coincidences which he feels make up life. To him, skill and luck are the same - no matter what you do or what your competences are, chance determines your life. And as the love drama unfolds, Johan Jacobsen discusses concepts such as destiny, God and man’s free will. Johan Jacobsen wrote the script based on a play by Danish playwright Soya. Soya was notorious for provoking his contemporaries by questioning sexual morality and exposing hypocrisy.
Double standards and abortion
The Soldier and Jenny demonstrates how double standards exist in established society, addressing such issues as illegal foeticide - abortion was not permitted in Denmark until 1973. To many girls and women, the health and emotional implications of unauthorised interventions by abortionists were severe. But as a woman character in the film says, “Women who want to terminate a pregnancy will always find a way to do so.”
Johan Jacobsen was most famous for his glib elegant comedies at the time he made The Soldier and Jenny. Several of the characters surrounding the unfortunate young couple show signs of this cynical wit. But the film is a brilliant illustration that Jacobsen was also capable of staging an intense and in many ways timeless drama.
Did you know?
Some work carries the pay itself. When director Johan Jacobsen found it difficult to fund the Soldier and Jenny, the male lead actor, Poul Reichhardt donated his salary to the production of the film. The role as the soldier most critics and Reichhardt himself considered as one of his best in his career. Something else he was good at was partying to the bright morning, causing colleagues to call him Poul Bed Frighten. In public, he went under the nickname Poul Popularis, not least because of his many roles in Morten Korch films.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Film, 2006
The film version of Soya’s play Brudstykker af et Mønster could easily have ended up as a heavy, plodding melodrama; however, Johan Jacobsen breathes air and light into this drama of destiny and, together with tremendous actors, elevates it into a cinematic masterpiece.
Jacobsen is best known for giving popular comedies of the time a much-needed injection of elegance and lightness; however, in films such as Otte Akkorder (1944) and Den Usynlige Hær (1945) he attempted to step out of the role as Ernst Lubitsch’s student and to instead draw inspiration from film noir and 1930s French poetic realism. The latter is particularly evident in Soldaten og Jenny, where experiences from these unrelated dramas move up to a higher plane. The film, for which he also wrote the script, concerns chance events in life and how two insignificant everyday fates – those of a soldier and a saleswoman – are turned around by them. Poul Reichhardt was never seen more emotionally subdued than in the role of the brooding soldier who falls in love with Bodil Kjer’s grippingly despairing Jenny.
Despite the fact that at times the dialogue is weighed down by bombastic discussion of fate and free will, we are charmed by the atmospheric images of Copenhagen and fascinated by the credible performances that are given space to develop in Jacobsen’s characteristic long sequences.
Kjer and Reichhardt (and Jacobsen) took the first Bodil film award for their roles; however, this is a film characterised by strong performances in all roles. Not least Maria Garland and Johannes Meyer, as Jenny’s middle-class parents who make no secret of their strong preference for their daughter to find a different boyfriend to a soldier.