Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Danish Girl

As I was adding a pull-quote to the eFilmCritic review (probably the thing I like least about posting there, because if I wanted to sum this up in one sentence, I wouldn't have written eight paragraphs), I realized tha the film contains a metaphor for its own shortcomings: Nobody is impressed with Gerda's work, no matter how technically well-executed those portraits are, until she starts painting material that she finds inspirational, allowing her to break free of the rigid formality of portraiture and into true creation. The Danish Girl is a portrait, and while maybe some of the fifty minutes cut out of the workprint transcended that, what's left is kind of dully respectful.

Then again, perhaps that just means that this movie comes along a year too late; if it came out before Tangerine, Transparent, or Orange Is the New Black, maybe it feels more momentous as opposed to a film which is very formal, tidy, and well-meaning in a world where at leas a certain amount of the audience for this movie is already down for trans characters who are much more than their brave transitions. It's not mainstream, but it's just common enough that people might be ready for something a little more advanced.

Then again, as I write that I'm terribly worried that I referred to Lili as "Einar" and "he" too often in the review. I try to refer to trans-folks by how they self-identify, but it can be tricky where to decide to draw the line when referring to the past tense.

The Danish Girl

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 December 2015 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

There was talk fairly close to its release about The Danish Girl being nearly three hours long, although that turned out to be a working print and the actual finished film is a more standard two. With the end result being a film that is capable enough to get the story told but not much more, one wonders if maybe it should have been allowed to breathe or if different material should have made it into the final cut. The subject matter and cast should yield a more absorbing movie than actually appears.

It is, primarily, the story of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), an artist of some repute in Copenhagen who creates landscapes, continually returning to a scene near his childhood home. His wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) paints portraits, and though her work is technically excellent, it does not gamer much respect. One day when their friend Ulla (Amber Heard) is running late for her sitting, she has Einar put on her stockings and shoes to serve as a model, and it awakens something within him. Soon he and Gerda have created a female alter ego for him, "Lili", and while painting Lili inspires Gerda to do exceptional work, it's revelatory for Einar, who realizes that Lili is her true self, a concept that people are barely starting to articulate in 1926.

There is a thread early on in the film about how Einar and Gerda are unsuccessfully trying to conceive a child, and much of the final act occurs at a clinic whose primary purpose is the care of pendant women, and the idea that Einar and Gerda wound up bringing a new person into the world in an unconventional way is thematically an interesting way to look at the story. Interesting, but not necessarily satisfying, given the way things wind up shaking out, and not just because this manner mandates subtraction along with addition. It also seems to be in competition with an easier reading - that their roles as husband and wife were always reversed, since Gerda was not only the person to initially ask Einar out, but seems naturally more assertive, becoming the breadwinner even as it's implied that Einar/Lili had a fair amount of female biology from the start - rather than complementing it, and the contrast doesn't add much complexity.

Full review on EFC.

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