Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Danish Girl (2015) ✭✭✭

The Danish Girl is the story of the first surgically transgendered human: Danish artist Einar Wegener who in 1926 underwent the procedure to complete his transition to Lili Elbe. While based on actual events, historians say that the film takes quite a few liberties with characters' backgrounds and is not true to the recorded timeline. Regardless, The Danish Girl has received a plethora of award nominations for its leading talents: Eddie Redmayne as Einar/Lili and Alicia Vikander as his long suffering yet highly supportive wife Gerda.

As a movie, The Danish Girl doesn't quite deliver the emotional wallop it strives for. While Redmayne's performance is technically convincing at a granular level, his approach is oddly kind of sexist. As he becomes bolder in adopting Lili's persona, he also strangely becomes less interesting as a person. His performance is - for lack of a better term - too precious and wears a bit thin. As he dons more silky lingerie, the shallower and more vain he becomes, and eventually his line readings are reduced to flirty giggles and vacant grins.

As they did in The King's Speech and John Adams, director Tom Hooper and DP Danny Cohen manage to make the past beautiful through a grungy patina; as if we're looking at history through a dusty retroscope. The Danish Girl has been nominated for an Oscar in Production Design, and Eve Stewart's grey/blue palette evokes the distant mist of memory filtered through soft northern light. It is a beautiful film to look at, with dogged and meticulous attention to the most minor details of time and place. While The Danish Girl has been shut out of the Best Picture category - and one could argue deservedly so - its production value is absolutely first rate and clearly ranks among the year's best.

The real powerhouse here is Vikander, who keeps the script firmly rooted in its thorny humanist questions. Her willingness to sacrifice her own happiness to help her beloved husband's tortured soul find peace is an extraordinary portrait in courage. The dark circles under her eyes bear the crushing weight of the unique burden life has given her, which she carries without self-pity or complaint. Over the years, cinema has given us countless depictions of love, in an incalculable range of situations and circumstances. But I can't think of one more pure and selfless than Vikander's Gerda. I'll be rooting for her this awards season.

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