The Movie-ish Girdle
Another poison-pen love letter to freaks and monsters around, The Danish Girl is, like the pastry of the same name, sugar-glazed heavy fluff. While we all know that Denmark is the happiest place on Earth, something is definitely rotten in the Kingdom; that’s why the aftertaste, one guesses. This is a BOATS movie, see, Based On A True Story but reality has been careful edited for the viewer (or is it the voyeur?) to take a stroll by the edge without taking a hard look at the precipice, the sulfurous subject-matter sanitized by soft lightning, period dresses and politically correct dialogue. “Toddle-oh”, as they often say in Elsinor!
Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne, looking both good and repulsive in lace and satin), and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander, happy recipient of an Oscar for supporting role when she is the female lead, a proven studio strategy) are both painters. He’s brushing successful, moody landscapes and she’s a portraitist, a lesser artistic form in friendly, neighbouringly Copenhagen. But she’s definitely wearing the pants in the relationship, while Einar enjoys stockings and lingerie because “it’s pretty”.
It remains unclear what Gerda’s endgame is: is she creating an alternate version of herself out of an unfulfilling husband, or the muse for a sea change in her artistic career? The character is ambiguous, expressing thoughts like “Kissing you was like kissing myself” or “I’ll never be as pretty as you”. There is, under the layers of varnish, a canvass of cruel rivalry, the wife detaining the compass point at what her chrysalis of a husband should be. Or so she thinks.
Enter the man which will precipitate Einar’s metamorphosis, Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts, sweet as a lamb but almost embarrassingly manly in such a girly environment) He kisses Einar and she becomes Lili, in a reverse frog-to-prince moment. Her nose bleed: she has become a woman. Soon she webbing lies to her suitor and spreading her newfound wings in a dumbfounded small, small capital city where no one ever recognises her for who he, a public figure, was.
Gerda and Lili move to Paris, where their portraitist/model double act is a success, Gerda on the course of becoming Tamara de Lempicka. They are on a see-saw, through. Lili’s chemical imbalance has led to a radiation treatment which let him sterile. A painter becoming a model is even more awkward than a model becoming a painter, in an obvious parallel to a man so twisted he would like to becomes a woman. Einar has left the building, both as an artist and as a man; Lili devour him from the inside, a painful process including the mandatory homosexual mugging scene in the Tuileries garden. “Elbe like the river”, she says when asked her name; she’s adrift, drowning in a dark current stronger than both of him/her.
Obviously it does not end well, but in a dignified, symbolic way, a lot being made of a scarf, a confrontation with a pregnant woman emphasizing that gender realignment surgery (as they called it in the Twenties… sigh) will never make her a real woman. “The trick is to only eat sugar”, Lili says at some point when complimented on her figure; the trick here is to film the horror story it is as a treacle treat. The director, Tom Hooper (the atrocious The King’s Speech) and his production designer did their homework by pilfering paintings from Villhem Hammershoi and it seems everyone involved enjoyed recreating a monster to observe him/her suffer and die.
As usual, there are two ways of watching this particular exercise of glossing over a subject matter too dark to be used as such. The first is to wonder why to make such a complacent, emasculated Oscar vehicle of it, and be a bit ashamed at having watched it, or even worse, reviewed it. The second, which one guesses is what The Danish Girl deserves, is to consider it a 25 M$ spoof of Little Britain‘s unconvincing transvestite Emily Howard doing her lady things with her friend Florence, and have a good laugh at it.