Sunday 31 January 2016

The Danish Girl (2016) - Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl (2016) - Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl is pure, unadulterated Oscar bait.

Oscar winning director? Check. Oscar winning actor? Check. Oscar winning composer? Check. Oscar nominated cinematographer? Check. Topical subject? Check.

It's certainly a beautiful looking film. Each shot is framed to perfection and artfully, delicately edited. But then you'd expect nothing less for a film about the relationship between two artists. And Copenhagen isn't difficult to make look pretty, even if it was actually filmed in a number of European cities.

It's all too perfect though. Everything is positioned with mathematical precision - every camera angle, every smile, every hand movement. As a film about living as transgender, The Danish Girl is polite and tasteful, but fails to truly get under the skin of its protagonist.

That would be Eddie Redmayne in typically transformative fashion as Einar Wegener, a popular artist who becomes the first recipient of gender reassignment surgery in 1920s Denmark to become Lili Elbe. There's a real tenderness between him and his artist wife Gerda, with sketches becoming a sort of erotic display between the two.

The actual transformation, though, just feels forced. Einar's desire to become a woman seems to stem from a fixation on dresses; frequent close-ups serve to over-emphasise the difference in the characters' gender; phallic vegetables are chopped; and there's lots of reflective moments in mirrors. Witnessing Redmayne literally tucking himself is a blatant step too far.

Equally, the camera shies away from showing too much emotion, too much rawness. There are moments of brutality - violence, an attempted cure, dangerous surgery - but for a long film, the narrative brushes over these moments too swiftly. Just as Einar's masculinity is muted, the inherent trauma of the situation is softened. Redmayne's twitching mouth does as much acting as the rest of him, but it's undeniably a sensitive performance despite some ineffective material.

Alicia Vikander offers the more nuanced performance as Gerda - a woman torn between love for her husband and love for her art. With Lili, the two intertwine as Gerda dresses up her husband as her new muse. Is Lili just an art project gone too far? Is she capitalising on his situation? Is it her fault? Vikander encapsulates both Gerda's strengths and weaknesses - for all Redmayne's rouge-lipped beauty, it's impossible to take your eyes of Vikander.

The presentation is so gentle and safe it doesn't do this empowering story justice. Commendably, the film attempts to explore the mindset, rather than the genitalia, of a transgender woman. It just doesn't dig deep enough.


Watch: The Danish Girl is out now.