Soap and Water (Wasser Und Seife) -- Film Review

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- There's nothing beautiful about this laundromat, but there is beauty in the telling of its inner story. A day-to-day portrait of three German women who toil behind the scenes in a neighborhood cleaning establishment, "Soap and Water" stirred audiences here in its North American premiere at the 12th Annual RiverRun Film Festival.

Filmmaker Susan Gluth deservedly won the fest's best director award for documentary feature with this stirring depiction of the lives of three very ordinary women. Her charitable, non-judgmental eye is in the very best neo-realist tradition of Vittorio De Sica and his magnificent testaments to the valor of unnoticed people.

Superbly crafted, "Soap and Water" should shine on the festival circuit, and would be an invigorating addition to a lifestyle cable network. In this awful age that celebrates self-absorption and dysfunction, it's cleansing (pun intended) to see the spotlight placed on decent people who show up everyday and do the best they can -- truly a modern marvel.

Gluth's supple storytelling conveys the tedium of such a scrub-and-fold existence, but her remarkable eye illuminates its discreet dignity. Never patronizing, Gluth gets beneath the surface smudge of their lives and shows their remarkable fortitude.

Mixing interviews with verite-style footage, Gluth conveys the individuality of each woman: They've all suffered hard knocks and family disruptions. Much of her focus is on Bonnie, the eldest member, whose life away from her fold-and-press job centers on her aging dog. Bonnie uses her meager money to buy heart pills for her her pet, whose upcoming 13th birthday she fears will be the dog's last.

Through the finely honed and aptly restrained aesthetics of her fine technical team, Gluth wisely conveys the dignity of people who do the best with what they've got.
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