Some­thing’s gor­geous in Den­mark

THE DAN­ISH GIRL, drama, rated R; in French, Ger­man, and English, with sub­ti­tles; Re­gal DeVar­gas, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Jonathan Richards

To get first things out of the way first, some eye-catching act­ing is on dis­play in The Dan­ish Girl. Ed­die Red­mayne, win­ner of last year’s best ac­tor Acad­emy Award for his por­trayal of ALS-bur­dened physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing, tosses his hat in the ring again with an­other phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing Os­car­bait per­for­mance as Lili Elbe, née Ei­nar We­gener, a Dan­ish painter who in the early 1930s be­came a trans­gen­der pioneer. It’s a gutsy per­for­mance from Red­mayne, who brings to it a touch of an­drog­yny that plays into the char­ac­ter and makes a per­sua­sive, if some­times sim­per­ing, woman (the real Lili Elbe, it should be noted, de­scribed her­self as a “thought­less, flighty, very su­per­fi­cially minded woman”). Just as good, per­haps even bet­ter, is Ali­cia Vikan­der (Tes­ta­ment of Youth, Ex Machina), who brings enor­mous sym­pa­thy to the role of Ei­nar’s artist wife, Gerda, with­out the ben­e­fit of tor­ment and con­fu­sion on which to hang her char­ac­ter.

Di­rec­tor Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables) wades into treach­er­ous wa­ters with this bit of fic­tion­al­ized history. The based-ona-true-story genre is mined with haz­ards, as peo­ple de­bate whether history is done a dis­ser­vice by the cre­ative li­cense in which film­mak­ers in­dulge. And when the topic is as emo­tion­ally charged as gen­der iden­tity has be­come, it car­ries its own set of risks, as con­cerned au­di­ences seize on its in­ac­cu­ra­cies or dis­tor­tions. Activists have de­cried the cast­ing of a non-trans­gen­dered ac­tor in the cen­tral role in this movie.

When we meet the We­gen­ers, they seem to be a hap­pily mar­ried couple with a lively het­ero­sex­ual sex life. Both are ac­com­plished artists — Ei­nar is a suc­cess­ful land­scape painter, Gerda a strug­gling por­traitist. Things be­gin to change when one af­ter­noon Gerda’s model fails to show up on time, and she asks her hus­band to put on a pair of silk stock­ing and heels and strike the pose she’s work­ing on. He’s re­luc­tant at first but dis­cov­ers some­thing thrilling in the feel of a woman’s gar­ments.

And thus be­gins the emer­gence of Lili Elbe. It pro­gresses into some­thing like an alternate per­son­al­ity, with Lili, in full drag, passed off as Ei­nar’s sis­ter and no­body seem­ing too con­cerned that they’ve never been seen in the same place at the same time. The Lili per­son­al­ity be­gins to take hold and be­comes more dif­fi­cult for Ei­nar to re­sist. Even­tu­ally she finds a doc­tor (Se­bas­tian Koch) who un­der­stands the con­cept of gen­der mis­cast­ing and is pur­su­ing pi­o­neer­ing work in re­as­sign­ment surgery. The rest, hero­ically and trag­i­cally, is history.

Hooper, work­ing with screen­writer Lucinda Coxon’s smooth adap­ta­tion of David Eber­shoff’s novel about the We­gen­ers, has crafted a beau­ti­ful pic­ture. The pho­tog­ra­phy, the sets, the cos­tumes are pitch per­fect. But there’s a sense of emo­tional dis­tance that the movie never quite man­ages to shake. Maybe it’s too taste­ful, too care­ful. What Lili Elbe did was ter­ri­fy­ingly bold. The movie is el­e­gant and safe.

I feel pretty: Ed­die Red­mayne

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