Friday, 29 April 2016

The Danish Girl: A Review

During her acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar Award, Alicia VIkander thanked her co-star Eddie Redmayne rather profusely. As I had not yet watched the film, I did not understand the reasons for her gratitude. I have since watched 'The Danish Girl'  and I now do. 

In the film, Eddie Redmayne portrays the real-life Einar Wegener and the woman Einar becomes, Lili Elbe, while Alicia Vikander plays Einar's wife, Gerda.  Both are painters; Einar of landscapes, Gerda of portraits.The film charts a course through their lives as Einar changes into Lili.

The performance of both Eddie and Vikander as individuals is good, but what sells the film is their performance together as partners. If they had been any less convincing as a couple, the film could very well be nearly not worth watching. By that, I don't mean they should hook up in real life, rather that they played being married so truly. There was a realism, a kind of humanity about them as a pair, that did not require you the viewer to work with the assumption that they are married; they were believably married. They were partners in every sense of the word. 

The film was rather lushly coloured. The landscape scenes were lovely as was the rendition of 1920s Copenhagen and Paris. Alexandre Desplat's score was done in what I consider to be his signature style: very mellow, haunting and moving. He is one of the composers whose work I feel almost sure of recognizing in a film. 

Like all films based on true stories, the film takes liberties with the original tale. It is important to note that the film is based on a novel, which itself is based on the true events in question. As such there are significant discrepancies such as the fact that Lili and Gerda carried on a lesbian relationship after her sex change, and that Lili was not living with Gerda at the time of her death; they had long since separated. As you would no doubt tell, that wasn't judged a palatable fact to be served to film goers. 

Einar's beating also didn't happen. I would suppose its inclusion in the film serves to highlight the other beatings LGBT persons, in other times and places, have faced. It is better to watch the film as more of an allegorical tale than an actual rendering of real-life events. 

The dialogue in the last quarter of the film was overly romantic and cheesy. This was disappointing as the film had actually managed to please with authenticity of its story (in terms of depiction, not facts). Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts) was one of the low points of the film for me. It seemed his role was to stand there and be solid. I guess that the idea behind his character was to contrast him with Einar's evolution into Lili and the consequent/resulting instability in Gerda's life. He could have been livelier though. 

Identity is a key idea in this film; it is not explored completely or in much depth, but you sense it in the undercurrents between Gerda and Lili. At the end of Lili's first day at her new job working at a store, Gerda tells her of a dream she had of Lili getting married. The dialogue excerpt is as follows: 

Gerda: You know, one night last week, I had the strangest dream.
Lili: What was it?
Gerda: I dreamed you were getting married. 

Lili laughs softly, then reflects on the idea.
Lili: Do you think I ever will?
Gerda: Who knows? So many strange things have happened.

Gerda says this with a look that mingles defeat and resignation.  
Lili: I do want to, Gerda.
Gerda: It's not so long ago we were married, you and me.
Lili (corrects): You and Einar.
Gerda: I know it was Einar, but really, it was you and me.
Lili shows discomfort at this, seemingly withdrawing from Gerda.

In this scene, you can see that Lili is reluctant to admit any overlap between Einar and Lili; they are two distinct individuals. It is implied that Gerda feels differently. Her consistent attempts at both trying to be supportive and her sadness at losing her husband are evident. Lili ceases to paint because it was part of who Einar was, not Lili, and so takes up a job in a department store; Gerda sees traces of the man she used to know in the woman now before her, and feels they are not as separate as Lili deems them to be.

It would be a bit of a stretch to refer to the Danish Girl as a 'thought-provoking' film; it is just very pretty. However, it does give you a thinking prompt about identity: what can and can't we leave behind when we change.