Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: The Danish Girl - Tender and Luminous

The Danish Girl

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Marcus So
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: Lucinda Coxon
120 minutes   Rated M

I have to confess that there is a lot about transgender that I don’t understand. It strikes me that going through reassignment is heroic but fraught. I am learning a lot about the subject because of the current interest and discussion generated by people such as Caitlyn Jenner, Catherine McGregor and Chas Bono. I have known two people who were trans and they were both stunningly beautiful women. I remember reading about Christine Jorgensen when I was young and saw the rather hideous and sensationalist movie of her ‘change’. More recently I read April Ashley’s rather rambling and pretentious memoir which gave some insight into one woman’s transition. After Caitlyn Jenner’s candid and informative interview last year comes the Tom Hooper directed ‘The Danish Girl’ based on the novel by David Ebershoff.

Einar Wegener shares a studio with his wife Gerda in Copenhagen, he the successful landscapist and she the unrecognised portraitist. Just as a painting emerges on a canvas so too does Einar’s true identity as Lili with the encouragement and support of Gerda. This film is about Lili’s emergence and the evolution of the marriage at a time when gender reassignment surgery (not to mention discussion of transgender issues or acceptance of the existence of gender dysmorphia)was barely in conception let alone infancy.

Eddie Redmayne again achieves what he did in ‘The Theory of Everything’, disappears completely into his character and gives us both Einar and Lili and we see where he exists within her at the same time as making her different to him. She is beautiful and slight, refined but demur, not confident and yet the audience has no doubt her path though difficult and emotional is the right one. It is a perfect balance and masterful. Similarly Alicia Viklander as Gerda is assured and shows us the various levels suiting the range of situations she lives through while experiencing Lili’s journey as a supporter and a painter. She wants what’s best for her husband and Lili but where does that leave her as a wife who loves her husband when he is no longer ‘there’? What will fill that space, is the turnaround in her artistic endeavours fill the void, where will her emotional nourishment come from? Vikander’s first class acting lets us in enough to wonder with her.

There are a few times where I thought the script was a bit stilted, primarily early on. Also the sex scenes didn’t ring true of a long term marriage but perhaps there was a point there, not subtle maybe but perhaps deliberate. Also the early scenes of Henrik (Ben Whishaw) trying to seduce Lili were ill conceived and a bit naff. This was all early on in the film and there is no fluff or dead air as the story moves along.  

I thought this was a gorgeous film visually, some startling framing, angles and a beautiful palette. I would have loved to have seen it in widescreen ratio. I liked that everything was slightly muted (not soft focus, just a sense of it all being behind a very thin muslin), nothing was vivid, a crayon rather than oils perhaps? A painting rather than a digital photograph?  Beautiful. Copenhagen was stunning, Paris was mouth-watering and Dresden breathtaking.

There are some historical and factual errors apparently and the truly surprising ending was not quite reflective of what actually happened. That is a concern when one is making a movie of a ‘true’ story. Hooper says he put back some of the ‘truth’ that had been fictionalised in his novel but some critics have used this as a reason for bagging the film overall. Okay if that is how you base a review but I didn’t know that until after I saw the film. I write reviews based on what I know and what I respond to at the time I see a film. 

I don’t know I learnt more about transgender issues from this fine movie apart from pondering the question ‘who am I in my dreams – Lili or Gerda’. But I now know the story of two fine artists who lived in an interesting time in a beautiful city and went on an extraordinary (the perfect adjective in this case) adventure that involved gender, relationship, societal norms and art. That’s a story worth knowing about and this is a film definitely worth seeing.

3 ½ out of 5

1 comment:

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