Monday, January 11, 2016

Film Review: The Danish Girl (2016)

“It’s hard for a man to be looked at by a woman”

In 1926 Copenhagen, husband and wife couple Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda (Alicia Vikander) Wegener are both working as painters honing their craft.  Although Einar has had success in displaying his landscapes, Gerda is being told that her portraits are not yet worthy of exhibition.  In order to help finish her latest work, Einar agrees to model some tights, shoes and a dress, which starts to awaken a growing desire in him.  And so when Einar refuses to attend a tiresome artist’s ball, they decide that Gerda should instead accompany a new alter ego, Lili.

Redmayne portrays Lili with a passionate curiosity as she begins to take on a life of her own outside from Einar, including as Lily begins to see other men from the art world including the amorous Henrik (Ben Whirshaw), and as the unsympathetic Dr. Hexler (Pip Torrens) tries to exorcise Lily through radiation therapy.  As the film advances, Redmayne learns to mimic the movements of the glamorous woman around him, not unlike his extraordinary physical transformation in The Theory of Everything.

Yet for all of Lili / Einar’s mystique, the film’s central character is undeniably Gerda – an amazing woman with patience, tolerance and pride for Lili’s transformation.  In any other film Gerda’s partner would be the villain considering the way that Gerda is treated – lied to, cheated on and eventually quasi-abandoned – yet because Lili /Einar are framed as the troubled hero(ine), Vikander’s performance is all the more subtle and compelling.

Director Tom Hooper once more reunites production designer Eve Stewart with director of photography Danny Cohen to construct a rich and persuasive period piece in interwar Denmark.  The attention to detail and focus on the costumes and art of the time create a vivid visual palette that make 1920s Paris and Copenhagen stunning.  Especially during the numerous party scenes amongst the art crowds

The transgender movement had a great year in 2015, and will no doubt continue to become more visible and established in the year to come.  And because The Danish Girl is based on the true story of Lili Elbe it is, of course, a poignant and powerful story to tell.  Yet it is interesting to think how the film would have been received when it was still a passion project with Nicole Kidman attached back in 2004.  Thankfully, the times they have a’ changed…

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