Alicia Vikander describes her double freak out after receiving two Golden …

11 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Danish Girl’ review: Film doesn’t offer a lot of substance in its telling of Lili Elbe’s life story.

“It’s very overwhelming and was a big whirl yesterday when I found out,” she tells E! As Caitlin Jenner graces the covers of magazines and films her own reality show, “The Danish Girl,” takes us back to a time when doctors prescribed “treatment for perversion” for transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne). Based on David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel, when we first meet painter Einar Wegener (Redmayne) it’s the mid-1920s and he’s married to struggling portraitist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). It’s a movie with an exquisite sense of place and mood: director Todd Haynes shot Carol, set in the 1950s, on 16 mm film and filled it with the colours of a faded Polaroid. The film, directed by Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” “Les Miserables”) and written by English playwright Lucinda Coxon, based on the 2000 novel by David Ebershoff, presents the tale as a mad romance between two artists (oh, those artists), who push the envelope of sexual role-playing and identity shifting before society and medical science were ready.

It does not seem to have occurred to either the confused character or this romanticized movie that a prostitute is not actually a good model for believable female gesture; after all, her persona is a product of male fantasy. With the visible film grain suggesting home movies and a story that unfolds through meaningful looks, pointed glances and fingers resting on shoulders, Carol turns the audience into voyeurs — and like any good seduction, it takes its time. No doubt there will be Oscar buzz as Eddie Redmayne, who won the best acting prize in February for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, transforms himself yet again, this time into a woman. Einar finally and fully became Lili in 1930, possibly the first documented case of gender reassignment surgery. “The Danish Girl,” by contrast, is unable to escape itself. But to what extent can the actor, challenged to represent a transgender woman of the 1920s, rise above the frilly accessories of gender stereotype to deliver a truthful performance?

Wegener (Eddie Redmayne, who was just nominated for a Golden Globe) is a far more successful painter than his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander, also nominated for a Globe), but he supports her work; when she asks him to stand in for the woman (Amber Heard) whose portrait she’s painting, he obliges. A sci-fi film, Ex Machina tells a very different story from her other project, which stars Eddie Redmayne and tells the story of one of the first sex-change operations. In the Nyhavn district of Copenhagen, Einar and Gerda live, work and romp, often with sexually daring ballerina Ulla (Amber Heard, who thinks she’s playing the Danish Auntie Mame). Wegener touches the women’s stockings and clothing he’s to put on with a certain sense of happy astonishment — there’s obviously an awakening of sorts going on. Shy, almost coquettish at times, Mara looks like a young Audrey Hepburn and projects a sense of her inner struggle as she’s forced to keep her desires to herself.

His exploration of this feminine side continues, and when Gerda suggests he dress as a woman to attend an art party, it seems like quite a lark. ‘Lili’ is introduced as a cousin, and it’s a successful amusement. She’s also looking forward to going home for the holidays where she’ll be able to celebrate with her big family and let the news sink in. “To have something like this happen is something you would never have expected. Or, more properly, someone: Her name is Lili and she rapidly becomes both the inspirational model who will transform Gerda’s career and a tall, shy beauty ready to make her appearance at an artists’ ball.

Vikander has a less showy role, but holds the screen as the film’s emotional core, a woman who valued her relationship regardless of the changes that came her way. Redmayne’s portrayal is a delicate, sensitive thing – a hand lingering over a woman’s stocking, the desire written in Elbe’s eyes and quivering lips. Claiming that the model is Einar’s cousin Lili, Gerda does, and Einar’s Lili begins to go out into the streets, risking exposure and bodily injury and attracting the attention of Henrik (Ben Whishaw).

Ebershoff’s novel also fictionalized Lili’s story, and yet more heavily, but this rather unpalatable creation myth depicted in the film dates to the original book. Director Tom Hooper’s camera caresses every scene, luxuriating in the finely wrought period details giving a “Downton Abbey” sheen to the whole thing when a more raw approach would have lent some urgency to the story. Just so contemporary viewers don’t get the idea that a transgender identity is somehow produced by cross-dressing, the film gives Lili one previous adolescent brush with her true identity, which she assures Gerda was always waiting in the wings. A passionate cook, Vikander tells us she’ll be making pickled herring among other dishes. “We’re going to build everything from gingerbread houses and cook traditional Swedish dinner,” she says. “We have a few days, which is good.

Perhaps that’s why Alicia Vikander’s performance as the artist’s wife is so captivating, torn between losing the person she married and respecting Elbe’s wishes. A much less felicitous change is the decision to insist on Gerda’s heterosexuality – accounts of the true Gerda suggest she was probably a lesbian, which might explain her lifelong interest in Lili even after their marriage was dissolved. We’re quite a big family.” Once the holidays come to an end, she’ll be going right back to work with Matt Damon, who also nabbed a nomination for The Martian. In makeup, Einar eerily resembles groundbreaking Austrian painter Egon Schiele, whose scandalous self-portraits have a now-celebrated transgender look.

Instead, for the movie, scriptwriter Lucinda Coxon gives us the loyal, trooper wife – Ebershoff intended the novel as a love story – sticking by her man, that is her woman, right to the bitter end. Matthias Schoenaerts is similarly underused as Einar’s childhood friend Hans – apart from the lovely moment he creates when he first meets Lili and recognizes exactly who he is seeing without saying a word. When the latter fails to show up for a portrait session, Gerda coaxes her husband into posing in stockings and tulle, and the experience unlocks an inner door. It’s wondrous to watch Redmayne as Lili, becoming conscious of who she is and what is possible, but the story never moves much past its own beautiful surface. Meanwhile, Redmayne is completely plausible as Lili, but the schtick with the downcast gaze, shy grin and sinuous hands becomes annoying after a while.

While old sea hand Owen Chase (Hemsworth) doesn’t have the fortune of being born into a whaling dynasty, he has a pregnant wife at home and a promise to uphold. The irony — which the movie doesn’t do much with — is that Gerda’s career took off once she started painting moody, erotic canvases of a mysterious redheaded woman, a subject no one knew was her husband. The weakest element — and a familiar blind spot for director Ron Howard — is the film’s predictable characters, who slip far too easily into archetypes.

Redmayne plays his role with a wounded tremulousness that emphasizes Lili’s fear and martyrdom; she can barely look the other characters in the eye. With his long locks and leather vest straining to contain his bulk, Hemsworth looks like an airbrushed Harlequin Romance cover model, and to say Walker comes off as arrogant is to say the ocean is wet.

In the face of such predictability, however, the script entertains with florid eloquence: here, men don’t lie but “embroider the truth.” And Howard does shine in depicting the physical element of this seafaring saga: his camera goes everywhere, from the muck of the harbour to the rigging of the mainsail to the teetering height of the crow’s nest. There are a few of us who groan when we see the words “directed by Tom Hooper” come onto a screen, because after “The King’s Speech” and “Les Miserables” the name has come to stand for sumptuous interiors and costumes, swooping camerawork and swooning scores, literate scripts and, above all, Great Acting — all of it sensitive and sensible and embalmed, none of it beating with the pulse of life as it’s lived. Only once is a viewer genuinely startled, when a desperate Einar visits a peepshow in a Paris bordello so he can mimic the ladylike movements of the whore behind the glass.

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