DANISH GIRL, THE
Lili (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda's (Alicia Vikander) 1920s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer. (Based on a true story)
Review by Louise Keller:
There is something utterly beautiful about this film. To begin with, Eddie Redmayne's ability to vanish before our eyes as he transforms himself into the persona of his character's fantasy is nothing short of remarkable. It's a complex, multi-faceted performance in which Redmayne's happily married, successful Danish painter Einar Wegener transforms into Lili, the vulnerable woman who appears from the inside. Of course the physical transformation is one thing, with wig, make up and clothes, but it is the emotional metamorphosis involving the invisible essence of identity that provides the real magic. It is the most powerful performance of Redmayne's career - beyond that of his Oscar winning portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
But Redmayne does not do it alone. Lucinda Coxon's adaptation of David Ebershoff's novel about one of the first known gender-reassignment cases gifts Alicia Vikander with her best role to date - as Einar's wife Gerda, whose love for her husband is absolute. 'What did I do to deserve such a love?' he/she asks. Beyond the emotional turbulence that Einar faces as he struggles to come to terms with who he really is, the heart of the film explores the close, loving and complicated relationship between Einar and Gerda as Lili comes between them. Like the relationship between Einar and Gerda, the onscreen relationship between Redmayne and Vikander is like a single flame - every which way the wind blows, the flame remains strong, even when it flickers. Especially when it flickers.
The King's Speech director Tom Hooper sets the scene meticulously from the outset. It is 1926 Copenhagen, portrayed in all its poetic and cinematic beauty. The close relationship between Einar and Gerda is established immediately, including their lusty sex life. The scene in which Gerda asks her husband to fill in for her absent portrait model is highly memorable, the camera lingering on Redmayne's face as he fingers the fabric of the gown that is draped over him as he poses. Einar's first public 'outing' as Lili at the Artist's Ball is revelatory as Lili emerges tentatively like a butterfly morphing from the cocoon. We can sense the revelation she feels when people look at her. The evolution of Lili is a slow process and the close husband/wife relationship becomes confused and painful. Watch for the scene in which Lili seemingly bares her soul as she takes off her clothes, looks in the mirror and traces her finger over her naked body like an artist making brush strokes during the artistic creation process.
The rest of the cast is hand picked: Ben Whishaw as the romantic who prefers the shadows; Matthias Schoenaerts as the friend from the past; Amber Heard as the portrait model who bestows Lili with her name; Sebastian Koch as the Dresden doctor who offers an option. The fact that the family dog is two-tone in colour does not escape our attention.
Superbly directed by Hooper, the film looks gorgeous through Danny Cohen's lens, while Alexandre Desplat's wonderful music score buoys the story's emotional timbre with a melodic sense of discovery, joy, mystery and beauty. There is much to say about this film with its sensitive subject matter, extraordinary performances and portrayal of exquisite beauty - cinematically and emotionally. It's one of the best of the year - any year.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As nuanced, articulated and meticulously detailed as his Oscar winning performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (2014), Eddie Redmayne's gift to cinema in this outstanding work by Tom Hooper is riveting. We meet him as the husband Einar Wegener and we follow his amazing, surprising journey to becoming Lili. The power of his performance is such that we can't imagine any other actor in the role. His transformation, though, is gradual - as was his transformation of a different kind as Hawking. The story itself is as marbled as true life stories always are, and it is beautifully made for the screen.
I surprised myself how easily the film seduced me into its world, despite the setting being at odds with the cast and their voices; this is a Danish story, yet the English/US actors (Ben Whishaw, Texan Amber Heard, even Swedish born Alicia Vikander's English accent) bring with them their own cultures, quite different from the Danes. But we grant the filmmakers licence for the sake of understanding the dialogue without subtitles.
Excellent choice in Sebastian Koch as Warnekros, the sympathetic doctor who plays the key role in Lili's journey, and Matthias Schoenaerts as Einar's childhood friend Hans Axgil.
The period and the places are recreated with loving care as the couple's progress through an emotional minefield takes its geographical course. But in the end, it is the heartbreaking story of Einar/Lili that resonates with us and haunts us.
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DANISH GIRL, THE (M)
CAST: Alicia Vikander, Eddie Redmayne, Amber Heard, Ben Whishsaw, Adrian Schiller, Pip Torrens
DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper
SCRIPT: Lucinda Coxon (novel by David Ebershoff)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Danny Cohen
EDITOR: Melanie Oliver
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eve Stewart
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 21, 2016