A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener) and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard
Adapted by Lucinda Coxon from David Ebershoff’s novel, Tom Hooper’s film retells a story based on real life: that of painter Einar Wegener who underwent a pioneering gender reassignment operation in the 1930s Germany to become Lili Elbe. Still I had an impression the director stopped half way, never exploring that complex tale in depth and changing it too so it became more of a glamorized tear-jerker. There’s nothing better than a tear-jerker when it comes to the Oscars, right? Well, I might be wrong but it seems to me this movie was simply tailored to meet the demands of the jury and no, it is not a compliment. Many people have expressed their disgust at the fact that a male actor was cast as a transgender woman but I admit I am not going to enter that particular discussion.
The movie starts with young Einar making a name as a landscape painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen. He is also happily married to a pretty portrait painter Gerda (Alicia Vikander). Isn’t he the luckiest young artist around? Err…no. One day his lovely wife asks him to wear stockings as a leg stand-in for her portrait of a ballerina friend and voila, Einar is having a discovery: deep inside he is and has always been a woman. And that fact starts eating him from the inside. To his own shock, and the dismay of clueless Gerda, he cannot stop pursuing his second self, Lili, even if she, compared to his Einar persona, seems a vapid, superficial creature. After a while the couple go to decadent Paris where Einar/Lili finally meets a German doctor who doesn’t think the poor woman in a man’s body is gay, pervert or a schizophrenic who should be closed permanently in an asylum. Still will any kind of surgery solve all their troubles? You bet it won’t.
Overall it was a very elegant film with splendid aesthetic gloss and stunning vistas but very little dramatic weight. Eve Stewart’s designs, Paco Delgado’s costumes and Danny Cohen’s photography combined made it a truly luscious, painterly production yet the director overused the beauty. Too many scenes were distractingly dominated by a perfect frock, a lovely bedspread, a staircase or a ravishing art nouveau window and too few serious issues were touched.
I have to say Redmayne’s performance flirted from time to time with farce and I don’t think it was a deliberate, ‘lighter’ touch to make the somber story with a dramatic ending more palatable. In my humble view all those languid sideways looks, coy smiles and winks the actor was employing freely were a bit overdone. Not to mention Eddie’s long swan neck of course ;p. Apart from that it was never explained where the money for his operation came from and I imagine Lili had to pay a lot; that gorgeous Dresden hospital, easily the nicest such an institution I’ve had an opportunity to admire in a movie, screamed ‘steep prices’ at me with every room.
There was also one scene where Einar first cross-dresses in public, and attracts an intrigued admirer, Henrik, played by Ben Whishaw. “You’re different from most girls,” hazards the wistful Henrik and I admit I snorted with laughter but I wasn’t sure such a reaction was really intended by the director. Still I can imagine the actors playing that scene had a lot of fun. Vikander portrayed Gerda as a tough modern woman, but I felt she ticked the proverbial 21st-century “feistiness” box a little too briskly, bordering caricature. I was also surprised that Gerda Wegener’s lesbian inclinations along with her famous lesbian erotica paintings were completely omitted but, after all, ‘omit’ might have been a very fitting second title of this flick.
A radical, possibly even scandalous story told in a very straight-laced way – for fans of art deco and 30s of the twentieth century. Like Hooper’s Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech, The Danish Girl features a repressed husband trying to transform and free himself with the help of a very supportive wife but, as far I am concerned, it failed to convey all the drama involved. And it was rather far from true story of Einar/Lili.
By the way the info about life of Lili Elbe might be found here.