The Danish Girl Review

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Cuttest couple Still ”Very Much” in the Honeymoon Phase as One-Year Anniversary Approaches.

Last year’s best actor winner takes on another transformative role, playing the first person ever to undergo sex reassignment surgery in a film that took 10 years (and as many false starts) to get to the screen.“I have to think of something to do,” the Oscar winner admitted to me this weekend in the L.A. premiere of his new movie The Danish Girl (in theaters Nov. 27). Eddie Redmayne was about to shoot the climactic battle sequence in Les Miserables — the part where the French Army fires cannonballs into the barricades to scatter the student revolutionaries — when director Tom Hooper calmly strolled across the battlefield and handed the young actor a large unmarked envelope.

Not only did he read every book on her that he could get his hands on, but he also visited individuals who had gone through sexual reassignment surgery themselves. Acclaimed director of “The King’s Speech” and “Les Misérables,” Tom Hooper’s new film, “The Danish Girl,” stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander as famed couple Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. They seem touchingly young, like earnest teen-agers playing at adult life, and, despite the fact that both of them are artists, we sense little rivalry or spite. Vitamin D?’ I mean, it was snowing yesterday in London,” Redmayne said. “So Hannah was like, ‘I will come on that excursion for sure.’” But they jumped right back on plane to London because Redmayne was due back to keep on shooting the Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them before the red carpet screening even ended.

But while filming Jupiter Ascending he was able to talk with director Lana Wachowski, who had not only undergone the operation herself but who also knew a great deal about Lili Elbe. Last year, his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, the legendary theoretical physicist inflicted with ALS, earned him the top honor in the biz, the Academy Award for Best Actor. At moments over the years, there were even hopes that the film actually might get made — at one point, Nicole Kidman was signed for the lead — but something always went wrong. Gently, he dons ballet shoes and silk stockings—just for fun, although the donning earns such close and reverent attention from the camera that something more than amusement, clearly, is at stake.

I was actually making a film with Lana Wachowski, and she pointed me … when I talked to her about Gerda and Lili’s relationship, she knew about their art and their work and their life together. In the film, Redmayne reinvents his appearance yet again to play another real-life trailblazer, Lile Elbe, who was one of the first people in the world to ever undergo gender reassignment surgery. The story is of such great historical significance that it is almost surprising that this story has not been told through film before until one remembers how stigmatized the transgender community has been. 2015 has been a remarkable year in the way of progress for the LGBTQ community with Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and the legalization of gay marriage; it’s a fitting year for “The Danish Girl”s release. Or somebody got cold feet. “It was the subject matter,” says Lucinda Coxon, who wrote the script in the envelope. “It was considered commercial poison.” Times change.

When we caught up with Redmayne at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, he said, like The Theory of Everything, wants to honor the memory of the real-life person he’s portraying. “The stakes are higher when there is a story that is so iconic and important,” he said. “Especially with people like Gerda and Lile, who have such a legacy. Hence the next step: Gerda goes to an artists’ ball, taking Einar along not only in drag, decked out in a wig and a long gown, but in the complete guise of another person, who is introduced as Lili Elbe, Einar’s cousin. The Oscar-winner is absolutely remarkable in his transformation from Einar to Lili; we see Redmayne slowly develop Lili’s mannerisms and almost magically undergo the physical transformation from Einar to Lili.

Few of the guests look askance; one of them, indeed, an impassioned fellow named Henrik (Ben Whishaw), engages Lili in conversation, and, in the seclusion of another room, bestows a kiss. OK, its failure might have been eclipsed by the woeful performances of Pan and Fantastic Four, but the sci-fi space opera only grossed $183.9 million from a $176 million budget.

I find it amazing how long it’s been since Lile and Gerda’s story and how much progress there is still to be made.” And change is exactly what he wishes his role in this film will ignite. “I hope this movie helps encourage people to keep talking about these issues,” said Redmayne, “because there is still such a long way to go.” Producer Gail Mutrux happened to come across a review of the novel — “in November 1999,” she very specifically recalls, around the time she was working with Bill Condon on developing a script for the film that would become Kinsey — and optioned the film rights a few months later, the minute the book was published. “It was such an idiosyncratic love story,” she explains of her attraction to the material. “What struck me was that his wife was willing to help him get what he needed, knowing their relationship would never be the same, that they were doing this together.” Fifteen years ago, before shows like Transparent changed the culture and swept the Emmys, transgender people were something of a rarity on the screen. Personally I found Jupiter Ascending to be flippant, camp fun, which didn’t take itself too seriously and had plenty of enthralling action set-pieces to pass as a worthwhile entertaining ride. By this stage, the movie is rife with confusions of every type, and Hooper handles them with clarity, grace, and a surprising urgency, far more at ease in this intimate drama than he was with the super-sized galumphings of “Les Misérables.” He is right to be urgent, because Lili and Gerda are all too aware that, for those who are sentenced to lifelong incarceration in the wrong form, a change of clothes is not enough.

Lili tells Gerda how much she still loves her — and this is apparent through their companionship for one another — yet we do not see any physical or romantic connection. But by 2009, Tucker and Theron were out, replaced by Tomas Alfredson, director of the vampire cult hit Let the Right One In, and Gwyneth Paltrow in the Gerda role. It wasn’t a man transforming into a woman; it was a woman who had been living as a man.” It was right about that time, though, that Hooper was passing notes to Redmayne on the set of Les Miserables. Nothing rude or untoward has been admitted; when the word “penis” is mentioned, it rings out like a gunshot, and anyone who snickers when Henrik says to Lili, “You’re not like other girls,” may well be asked to leave the cinema.

From Shakespeare to “Shakespeare in Love,” fluidity of gender was a great dramatic staple, touched with sexual inquisitiveness and flourishes of farce. As the Caitlyn Jenner saga has confirmed, the visual and verbal language of the subject has become a minefield, and Hooper’s film is a master class in how to tiptoe through the mines. Let’s wait and see.’ ” While waiting for Hooper to finish up on Les Miserables, Redmayne went on to make two movies: the award-winning one about the astrophysicist and another (at 10 times the budget) that explored outer space less scientifically. But at least some good came out of Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowskis’ $176 million sci-fi dud in which Redmayne played an intergalactic baddie: Between takes the actor got transgender tutoring from no less an authority than Lana Wachowski. “She talked in depth and wonderful detail about [Elbe’s] art and also extraordinary things about that period. The Copenhagen interiors are modelled, with aching fidelity, on the paintings of the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi, who died in 1916, and the same nicety gilds everything from garments to complexions.

How architecture had gotten more feminine with Art Nouveau, how the notions of gender were beginning to change in the 1920s, with women’s clothing becoming more boyish and haircuts getting shorter. To be honest, he’s so outrageously pretty to begin with that the journey into feminine loveliness is for him little more than a sidestep. (Did I detect a faint testiness in Vikander as she realizes that, for once, she must settle for being the second-most-beautiful creature onscreen?) I struggled hard to picture Steve Buscemi, say, in the role of Einar, but nothing came, and, likewise, were you to swap the stately trio of Copenhagen, Paris, and Dresden for downtown Pittsburgh, the film would swiftly collapse. The two had collaborated even before Les Miserables. “We worked together when he was 22,” says the director. “He played a young rebel opposite Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth [in the TV miniseries Elizabeth]. I wanted to work with him again.” Says Redmayne of his director, “He sees everything.” Shooting in Denmark was set for early 2015, but first Redmayne had to find the right look for his character. Better yet, in the dimly lit highlight of the film, he visits a peepshow, in Paris, where a naked model feigns her pleasure behind a glass screen; rather than leering, however, Einar studies her devoutly, his imagination hungering toward her.

Makeup designer Jan Sewell, who’d worked with Redmayne on Theory, gave him dozens of wigs to try on, but it wasn’t until he tried on the fiery red one that the character started to take solid form. It was as uncomfortable an experience for me as it would be for anybody.” To make the scene a little less nerve-wracking, Hooper promised the star something directors almost never offer their actors — final cut. All of them attend the same school, and, on the last day of the spring term, they race to the beach and splash around, sitting on the shoulders of boys—their fellow-pupils—to stage a mock battle in the water.

If that reminds you of “Spring Breakers,” glistening with beer and bikinis, think again; the girls are fully clothed, and they run home none the worse, in a state of sportive bliss. Erol calls them “sullied.” Their antics, glimpsed by a neighbor, have brought shame upon their house, which, from here on, is hardened into a jail.

Exits are blocked, and bars are later welded onto the windows; fripperies like phones, computers, and makeup are confiscated; in public, T-shirts and denim shorts are replaced by what Lale, whose voice-over we occasionally hear, describes as “shapeless, shit-colored dresses.” But the jail is also, in her words, “a wife factory,” and soon both Sonay and Selma are married off, not merely in accordance with custom but also, we sense, in haste, before they can land themselves in more trouble. How can they duck the same fate? “Mustang” is the début feature of Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and it’s quite something: a coming-of-age fable mapped onto a prison break, at once dream-hazed and sharp-edged with suspense. Most audiences will reel in dismay as the older girls are summoned to a “virginity report,” or as family members knock on the door of a bridal chamber, midway through the wedding night, and ask to inspect the sheets. As for the grandmother, she’s no witchy crone but a tired and kindly figure who can hardly be hated for clutching at the roots of old traditions. “I didn’t know my husband at all,” she recalls, “but I grew to love him.” The film will be of most use, perhaps, to anyone who is teaching “Pride and Prejudice” to a bunch of teen-agers. They will relish the scenes in which the five sisters, showing slightly more initiative than the Bennet girls, escape to watch a soccer match, from which all male spectators have been banned.

The question that Ergüven puts, in the context of modern Turkey, is one that Jane Austen might have recognized: How, as a young woman, can you preserve not just your modesty but also your freedom of spirit and the play of your wits, when the purpose of your being, as laid down in social laws, resides in the finding of a man?

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