28 December 2015

The Courage to Become Yourself

It has been so very long since I did a short film review that I thought now might be the time. I’m highly focused on the whole cinematic experience (ambiance, pre-show trivia, etc.) beyond just the film or the performances, but I do this only to try to be entertaining. Maybe a little political, too, and most certainly shallow about some other aspects.

Step aside Caitlyn. The character in this film, Lili Elbe, is presented as a true pioneer in the trans experience. What starts as a single evening lark for a portrait artist and her husband, a landscape artist, in 1920s Denmark ends up exposing something deeper that has been going on for a lot longer than Gerda realizes. Her husband is gradually lost in the transformation into Lili, who was always inside him, and the exploration for medical assistance leads through all sorts of scary psychological elements to someone on the cutting edge (if you’ll pardon the pun) of new surgical interventions to help Lili to feel like she identifies with her body and the disguise of the accident of her birth in male form is shed.

Eddie Redmayne does an excellent portrayal of Einar and Lili. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander as Einar’s wife Gerda probably has the most emotionally challenging part to play, the spouse who is left behind by the transformation, even as she remains as lovingly present aa she is allowed to be.

A couple of smaller roles took my breath away as well, for much shallower reasons. Ben Whishaw seems to be in everything I am watching — including my dreams! — like the TV series London Spy, the latest Bond film Spectre and two more films on my list to see, Suffragette and In the Heart of the Sea. If he runs out of film and television projects, that space is still open in my dreams. In this film, he plays Henrik, a homosexual (say that with your best accent, emphasizing the “s” and the “x”) who sees Lili on her first night out (the lark) and is interested in the man beneath the dress. Let’s put him over in the “friend” column.

Equally dreamy is Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans. I saw him a couple of years ago (oh dear, almost three!) in De rouille et d’os and gushed about his brutish beauty in that film here. In The Danish Girl, he is Einar/Lili’s childhood friend and crush, author of a kiss that was not so much forgotten as filed away for future reference. He is refined and unflappable and seems most ready to step up for Gerda, should she show any inclination toward that, while remaining caring and supportive of Lili. Good thing I have plenty of dream space available. We’ll chalk him up as “next”.

I thought overall it was a sensitive exploration of the topic with the limitations of the time period. Like most movies, we are seeing people who don’t have a lot of cares about finances, which kind of sets them apart from the rest of us. Social challenges are so much easier to confront when you are not also trying to scratch out a meagre existence, but can dash off a few new paintings to sell to support your lifestyle and your travel, not to mention your surgery. Gerda could have had more space for her part of the story, but it was fascinating to watch Lili, sometimes as Einar and sometimes as herself, learning to move like the women around her and trying (unsuccessfully) not to be too obvious about it.

The cinema experience was interesting, too. When I got there for an early afternoon screening on a Sunday during this holiday period, the place was teeming with high-energy children. It was a good thing I had chosen to see a film that came with a warning screen on the ticket-buying machine (“Are you sure you want to see this movie…it’s not for children!”), as not one of those children was present in the room where my choice was projected.

There were also no danishes, so I’m glad I found the film itself satisfying.

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