February 5, 2016
You can already get a hint of the story of "The Danish Girl" from its poster. Oscar Best Actor last year, Eddie Redmayne, is donning women's clothes playing a transgender woman. I will admit the topic is not exactly my cup of tea. However, its four Oscar nominations (including another Best Actor nod for Redmayne) compelled me to go see it as well.
It was the roaring 1920s in Copenhagen, Denmark. Artists Einar and Gerda Wegener were a young married couple very much in love. Einar is acclaimed for his landscapes, while Gerda is struggling to get her portraiture gain recognition. One day, Gerda asks her husband to pose for a painting of a ballerina she was trying to finish. Wearing the lady's shoes and touching her clothes awoke a long-repressed second person within Einar, a woman he identifies as Lili. Lili would eventually take over as Einar's dominant persona, impelling him to undergo very risky sex reassignment surgeries.
The lead role of Einar Wegener / Lili Elbe is predictably an acting showcase for the actor chosen to play him / her. While the LGBTs of the world would have wanted a real transsexual actress to portray their icon, the filmmakers chose Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne had that effeminate manner down pat as Einar Wegener. Up to that exact moment when Einar was naked in front of that mirror and Lili took over, Redmayne was very affecting and brave. He was able to convey Einar's confusion and struggle to regain control very effectively, until he finally gave in to the overwhelming compulsion. I may be in the minority, but I felt he was not that convincing anymore when he was already Lili Elbe, drastic weight loss and sweet shy smile notwithstanding.
I did admire more the performance of Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener. She took the lead in their relationship until Lili came out and Gerda had to yield. She sacrificed her own happiness and endured suffering for her love. I had admired Vikander since I saw her in "A Royal Wedding". Her role here in "The Danish Girl" can arguably be considered as a co-lead. Until the Oscar nominations came out, it was not sure for which film (this or the futuristic "Ex-Machina") or which acting category (lead or supporting) she would be cited. I think she was a very good chance of winning Best Supporting Actress for this film. 2015 was a banner year for Vikander, and I am looking forward to seeing this talented actress more challenging roles.
This is a very niche film. Perhaps only a limited number of people may be open-minded enough to watch this because of its controversial topic of transgenderism, still very uncomfortable or even unacceptable for a lot of people. It has been almost a hundred years since the events depicted in this film, transsexuals are now bravely declaring their choice. Sex reassignment surgery is an acknowledged medical procedure. However, they are still fighting discrimination from the society they move around in.
Definitely, this was a technically beautiful film in terms of cinematography, set design (those paintings!), and costumes. The first half of the movie was so good, with all the best scenes of the film. However, for me, during the parts when Lili goes for her surgeries, the pace of the storytelling of director Tom Hooper (best known for his Oscar-winning direction of "The King's Speech") became rather random and episodic. The film began to lag and feel long. The second half fizzled unfortunately, instead of lifting off from the momentum of the excellent first half. 7/10.