Saturday, January 02, 2016

THE DANISH GIRL

The Danish Girl puts an end to any accusations that Eddie Redmayne's exquisite portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything was a fluke. It wasn't. The British actor's elegant, delicate transformation from Einar Wegener, the true-life acclaimed Danish painter of the 1920s, into Lili Elbe, his true identity as a woman, is another well-judged, glorious balance of craft and emotion.

     Unlike James Marsh's biography of Mr. Hawking, though, The Danish Girl is a much less interesting and more formulaic proposition, handled by The King's Speech and Les Misérables director Tom Hooper as yet another upscale prestige period drama. Everything is in its proper place in this adaptation of David Ebershoff's book about Wegener's discovery that he had been a woman trapped in a man's body all along, and of his journey of transition into womanhood with the support of his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander). Everything, that is, except the sense of urgency and of life that propel the Wegeners to find the true nature of their personalities and of their relationship.

     In a way, that is appropriate for a tale that is about the chipping away at a facade as seen from the inside. Lili, the feminine personality that surfaces almost naturally in Einar, starts off as a playful game and slowly takes front and center stage as the Wegeners understand there's more to it. That the film seldom deals with the public consequences of that transformation, preferring to keep it mostly within the rarefied, tight-knit circle of friends and family, may be what is most interesting about The Danish Girl. It focuses on the reevaluation of Einar/Lili and Gerda's relationship as they try to find a way to not let it be lost, with the excellent Ms. Vikander and Mr. Redmayne playing that give-and-take from a place of sincere love and affection. 

     But there's always a sense that Mr. Hooper, whose career in film so far has remained within the realm of the attentive illustrator, is unable to match their layered performances. The film often deploys the tried-and-true trappings of the period drama, with pastel-coloured, picture-postcard views of Copenhagen and Paris. The effectively striking but heavy-handed symbolism and the constantly overbearing camera set-ups Mr. Hooper uses (especially in the second half) create a sense of excessive distancing that effectively sabotages the need to understand the thrust of a couple stripping all pretenses away.

     There's a great film hiding in The Danish Girl - it's the generous, affecting one that its actors are playing in, at loggerheads with the middlebrow true-life drama aimed at the Oscar constituency Mr. Hooper seems to be making. 

THE DANISH GIRL
US, UK, Japan, Belgium, 2015, 120 minutes
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts
Directed by Tom Hooper; screenplay by Lucinda Coxon based on the book The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff; cinematographer Danny Cohen (widescreen); music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer Eve Stewart; costume designer Paco Delgado; film editor Melanie Ann Oliver; produced by Gail Mutrux, Anne Harrison, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Mr. Hooper; a Working Title Films and Pretty Pictures production in co-production with Artémis Productions and Shelter Prod, in association with Revision Pictures, Senator Global Productions and Taxshelter.be, presented by Universal Pictures in association with Dentsu and Fuji Television Network
Screened December 17th, 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 5, Lisbon


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