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"THE DANISH GIRL"
(2015) (Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A 1920s era husband and wife must contend with the man's slow transition into becoming a woman.
PLOT:
It's 1926, and Einar (EDDIE REDMAYNE) and Gerda Wegener (ALICIA VIKANDER) are married painters living in Copenhagen. They have a loving and equal relationship despite his career of painting landscapes being far more prominent than hers of doing portraits. While his works hang in galleries and bring critical and public adoration, she can't even get hers to see the light of day outside of their workspace. That creates occasional bits of tension between them, although Einar is happy to stand in partially dressed as a ballerina in order to help her finish her latest work.

That partial bit of cross-dressing stirs a longing that's long been inside him, and Gerda unknowingly encourages that when she playfully proposes that he attend a reception dressed as a woman with the identity of being Einar's cousin. She thinks it's fun, not realizing the gender crisis that he's experiencing, or the fact that he'll end up drawing the attention of a young man, Henrik (BEN WHISHAW), at that event.

When Gerda catches them kissing, she's confused, hurt and concerned, and when he continues to dress as his feminine alter-ego who he calls Lili, she eventually starts painting portraits of him that way. They end up bringing art world attention to her and her newfound subject, something that doesn't escape the attention of Einar's childhood friend, art dealer Hans Axgil (MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS), who Gerda contacts as her husband begins disappearing into Lili.

That transition continues to the point that Gerda tries to find him help, a quest that eventually leads them to Dr. Warnekros (SEBASTIAN KOCH), a surgeon who's been trying to pioneer gender reassignment surgery. As Einar and Gerda's relationship changes, they must contend with the possible dangers and definite repercussions of him possibly electing to go through with that.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Much has been made in the past year about former Olympic champion turned reality TV star Bruce Jenner's transformation into Caitlyn Jenner. While those under the transgender umbrella of sexual orientation currently have the broadest public acceptance of anytime in history, Jenner's change made headlines -- and nonstop media coverage -- due to the fact that at one time, decades ago, he was the public epitome of American masculinity.

Notwithstanding such acceptance, he/she has nonetheless faced lots of public and media scrutiny, off-humor jokes and general mean-spiritedness. Imagine then, if a public figure -- perhaps not as worldwide famous but still a name in certain circles -- wanted to make a similar transition, but go the extra step of actual gender reassignment, and do so in 1926 before any such surgery had previously been attempted and when few people had ever heard of anything related to any of that.

Well, that just so happened to be the case with Danish painter Einar Wegener who was the first such recognized person to undergo the knife, so to speak, and then wrote the book "Man Into Woman" as Lili Elbe in 1933. That part of his/her life and how it affected his/her marriage to fellow painter Gerda inspired David Ebershoff's 2000 novel "The Danish Girl" that has now been turned into the dramatic biopic of the same name.

Director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech," "Les Miserables"), working from the screenplay adaptation by Lucinda Coxon, delivers an intriguing movie about a person suffering from gender confusion, how that affects a related marriage, and what constitutes love, sexuality and the human condition. While it might not be for everyone's tastes, I found it intriguing, engaging and sometimes emotionally moving.

And while most would see it being about Einar ("The Theory of Everything's" Eddie Redmayne in another Oscar worthy performance) and his transformation, it's just as much if not more about Gerda. She's played by Alicia Vikander who's had quite the year appearing in movies (including the brilliant "Ex Machina" where she's terrific and likewise Oscar worthy) and should score lots of acting noms and possible wins for her nuanced performance here.

When we first see them, they appear to be a happily married couple with a healthy sexual appetite for one another. But when Gerda has Einar don ballerina tights to model for her unfinished portrait of such a dancer, and then encourages him to attend a social gathering in drag as something of a joke, such attire stirs something in the man that he's been repressing since childhood when he was caught kissing a childhood male friend.

What follows is the progression of his gender identity confusion boiling up to the point that he can no longer hold it in and ends up spending more time as Lili than Einar. That obviously baffles, angers and hurts Gerda who both wants him to stop but also loves him enough to try to help him, first in the form of a cure and then in a whatever it takes fashion.

That's all while he/she starts seeing a man (Ben Whishaw) who understands what he/she is going through, and as Einar's aforementioned boyhood friend (Matthias Schoenaerts) tries to be of assistance to Gerda, and then ends up falling for her, only complicating matters.

And speaking of that, the fact that her underappreciated and stalled career as a portrait painter suddenly comes to life after she starts painting works of her husband as a woman only further muddies the waters. Should she continue and profit from what's helping forever change her relationship with her husband? Can she continue to love that person despite the gender transformation? Will any or all of that teeter precariously above and possibly fall into the cinematic void of melodrama?

Thankfully, Hooper keeps everything operating on a high level. So much so that the film could very well land a plethora of award nominations, not only for the acting, direction and writing, but also on the technical side as the production design, costuming and cinematography are gorgeous to behold.

While many have stated that Caitlyn Jenner is brave for publically going through her transformation from Bruce, true bravery comes from those who paved that path long before anyone heard of the Olympian. If you want to see such a story done in a polished way, you'll probably enjoy beholding "The Danish Girl." The film rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed December 5, 2015 / Posted December 11, 2015


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