A couple face tran­si­tion

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Ken­neth Tu­ran

Af­ter the public­ity mael­strom that sur­rounded Cait­lyn Jen­ner’s tran­si­tion, no con­tem­po­rary con­sumer of me­dia need be told what it means to be a trans­gen­der woman. In 1926, the sit­u­a­tion was very dif­fer­ent.

That’s the year when “The Dan­ish Girl” be­gins its story of Ei­nar We­gener (Ed­die Red­mayne) and wife Gerda We­gener (Ali­cia Vikan­der). When Ei­nar be­gan to feel like a woman painfully con­fined in­side a man’s body and be­came pas­sion­ate about re­vers­ing that, the couple’s sit­u­a­tion en­tered into com­pletely un­charted ter­ri­tory, and deal­ing with it proved ex­cep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult for ev­ery­one in­volved.

The film is based on a novel by David Eber­shoff, which it­self was based on “Man Into Woman,” a 1933 non­fic­tion book that de­tailed Ei­nar’s tran­si­tion into Lili Elbe, one of the first in­di­vid­u­als to re­ceive gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery. “The Dan­ish Girl’s” di­rec­tor, Tom Hooper, uses con­ven­tional film­mak­ing tropes to tell a story that is any­thing but.

Best known for “The King’s Speech,” which won him a best di­rec­tor Os­car, and “Les Mis­er­ables,” Hooper’s style is deco­rous and dec­o­ra­tive, us­ing Danny Cohen’s lu­mi­nous cin­e­matog­ra­phy to cre­ate pic­ture-post­card ver­sions of both Copen­hagen, where the story be­gins, and Paris, where the couple ended up mov­ing.

Hooper has the ad­van­tage of work­ing with Red­mayne, last year’s Os­car win­ner for “The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing,” and Vikan­der, su­pe­rior and sen­si­tive per­form­ers who can be counted on to go at it as hard as nec­es­sary to com­pletely in­habit their roles.

“Dan­ish Girl” is an an­guished love story de­tail­ing MPAA rat­ing: R (for some sex­u­al­ity and full nu­dity)

Run­ning time: 2:00

Opens: Fri­day how this couple cope with per­sonal up­heaval. It takes a while to un­pack its themes and gain our in­ter­est, but it fi­nally al­lows us to un­mis­tak­ably ex­pe­ri­ence the pow­er­ful drives that mo­ti­vate the ac­tion.

Ei­nar We­gener was one of Den­mark’s best land­scape pain­ters, and “Dan­ish Girl” be­gins at one of his open­ings, with wife and fel­low artist Gerda pleased at his suc­cess yet a bit frus­trated that her own work is not bet­ter known.

In their per­sonal lives, Ei­nar and Gerda start out with a typ­i­cal happy movie mar­riage, en­gag­ing in win­some ban­ter and an ac­tive and sat­is­fy­ing sex life.

Then Gerda, who is work­ing on a por­trait of their bal­let dancer friend Ulla (Am­ber Heard), asks Ei­nar to put on women’s stock­ings and bal­let shoes and pre­tend to be Ulla to help her get a de­tail right.

That ex­pe­ri­ence is like a light switch go­ing on for Ei­nar, and it’s a trib­ute to Red­mayne’s abil­ity that his per­for­mance is nowhere that abrupt. Rather, the ac­tor ex­cels at gra­da­tions and shad­ings, show­ing us with in­fi­nite grad­u­al­ness how Ei­nar be­comes Lili.

At first, Gerda treats Ei­nar’s in­ter­est in women’s cloth­ing as a new and fer­tile area for flir­ta­tion. When he ex­presses an in­ter­est in avoid­ing the an­nual artists ball, she en­cour­ages him to go dressed as a woman, a cousin from the prov­inces.

But Ei­nar’s in­ter­est in things fem­i­nine turns out to be a much deeper and pro­found one than any­one in­volved expects.

One of the un­ex­pected as­pects of this trans­for­ma­tion is that Gerda finds her­self as an artist. Her nu­mer­ous por­traits of Lili im­press a dealer in Paris, and Gerda and her hus­band move there and even look up Hans (Matthias Schoe­naerts), a child­hood friend of Ei­nar he has never for­got­ten.

“The Dan­ish Girl” is at its most af­fect­ing in the film’s sec­ond half, when Gerda and Lili seek des­per­ately for guidance from the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion and come up at first against un­com­pre­hend­ing dead ends.

The an­guish they feel, and we feel for them, is so strong it can seem at times like we’re in­vad­ing the couple’s pri­vacy. That’s how in­ti­mate this story gets. Ken­neth Tu­ran is a Tri­bune News­pa­pers critic.

FO­CUS FEA­TURES

Ali­cia Vikan­der, left, plays Gerda We­gener and Ed­die Red­mayne plays Ei­nar We­gener, who tran­si­tions to Lili Elbe.

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