Friday, December 18

REVIEW: The Danish Girl

Directed by Tom Hooper
2015 Biographical Drama
2 hours
From Focus Features

Eddie Redmayne
Alicia Vikander
Matthias Schoenaerts
Ben Whishaw
Amber Heard

We know how enamored I am of biography (even a somewhat fictional version as in this case) and this one is almost as delicious as a cheese Danish. 

Einar and Gerda are married artists living in Copenhagen in 1926.  Their spacious apartment shows the fruits of their labors.  Einar does his thing with landscapes while Gerda paints people.  Their marriage appears stable and loving.  They seem to support one another in every way they can.  They have no children but they have a little dog that they both love.

One day Gerda needs to finish a painting.  While the canvass shows a woman, it is Einar's face.  She asks Einar to pose for her.  She especially needs to finish the feet and asks that he wear ladies' slippers and assume a feminine pose with his legs and feet.  Gerda's request that her husband also put on the dress from the painting brought about a nay but he agreed to hold it up against his body.  In doing so, a change comes over Einar.

Soon he asks Gerda to leave her undergarments on as they make love because he wants to feel them against his body.  Shortly thereafter as she is undressing him for another round of lovemaking, she discovers he is wearing her camisole underneath his clothing. 

When the couple is invited to an art event, Einar tells her he doesn't want to attend because of how he is fawned over as an artist, and she agrees to make him up as a woman.  He will then attend as his cousin Lili.

Various scenes, some beautifully filmed, show Einar's transition as Lili.  Soon it seems that when Gerda arrives home, she always finds Lili present, rarely Einar.  In time, Einar decides it's not only time to fully embrace his new life choice but decides to have an operation that will completely turn him into a woman.  His search for a doctor results in one telling him he is homosexual, another that he is schizophrenic and one suggests a lobotomy.  Gender reassignment had never been done before but Einar wants to be the first.

She is informed the operation will wind up being two operations and is told the second of the two is more dangerous.  What she decides and how it all plays out forms the basis for the final chapter of the film.

While most of the focus, of course, is on the Einar/Lili character, in no way is the character of Gerda short-changed in terms of screen time.  What is most impressive is her stand-by-her-(wo)man attitude which includes continuing to live with him and be seen in public when he is dressed as Lili.  How many wives would do that today?  Obviously she should be posthumously awarded the first Saint Teresa Commendation Medal.

It is not at all surprising that both Redmayne and Vikander are gathering up acting nominations from the various groups that give out such things.  It seems likely both will end up as Oscar contenders as well.   He is an exquisite choice given his sometimes androgynous appearance, a misshapen but completely fascinating face and a treasure chest of mannerisms.  He is no stranger to playing real people outside the mainstream... 2007s Savage Grace and 2014s The Theory of Everything come immediately to mind.  He won Oscar's best actor for Everything and if he should win again for this film, he would be only the sixth person to win Oscars in two consecutive years.  Before you Google the others, they are Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jason Robards and Tom Hanks.

Vikander's face is lined with great ambivalence and uncertainty.  Hanging on as she does to support her husband in the face of knowing that she will ultimately lose him is the emotional core of the film and the actress handles it all with great dignity.  It was a good year for her given her equally impressive performance in Ex Machina and even a good comedy turn in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The supporting cast adds a nice touch.  The look of the film, from the period look of 1926 Copenhagen (where it was actually filmed) from the streets to the airy apartment to the clothes was perfect.  I was completely entranced by Alexandre Desplat's piano-laden score.  I must see if it's available to buy.

I do wish that we would have learned more about the main character from the inside rather than the outside.  Tom Hooper, a good director, tended to play it all a little too safe.  With an event this big, especially in 1926, there was no hand-wringing, no nervous pacing, no breakdowns, no yelling.  Really?  I know guys who fretted more over giving up regular coffee for decaf.   It's certainly a topical piece and it seems like it's being played strictly for straight audiences.  I think they could have withstood a more tense and daring version. 

Next posting:
Lucy in the 40s

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