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terça-feira, 5 de janeiro de 2016
The Danish Girl review: 'a beautiful, humane and moving biopic'
Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander's performances in Tom Hooper’s film about Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, has made them genuine award contenders
There’s a scene in The Danish Girl in a bustling Paris salon, where Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), an artist from Copenhagen, is exhibiting her series of nude portraits of a smouldering femme fatale called Lili.
The guests can’t get enough of them, or her – and in the crush, someone asks Gerda if her mysterious model has come to the party.
“I’m afraid she’s not here,” she replies, except she is: in the person of Gerda’s husband Einar (Eddie Redmayne), who posed for the paintings and is hanging back on the staircase, a jittery mixture of awkward and flattered. Einar’s body is male, but on the inside, he’s female – and when he looks at the paintings, he sees his true self, Lili, looking back. Art can see who Einar really is: mirrors just have a bit of catching up to do.
Tom Hooper’s beautiful, humane and moving biopic of the transgender artist Lili Elbe, who worked during the early part of the 20th century and was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, may not be the most obvious next step for the director of The King’s Speech and Les Misérables. Those are elegant, gilded, crowd-pleasing films of a type often called "easy watches" – and on the surface, there’s nothing easy about Lili’s plight.
Long before Hooper arrived on the scene, this film was to be directed by one of two Swedish filmmakers, Tomas Alfredson and Lasse Hallström, either of whom might have made the kind of wincing, austere, fingernail-picking drama the film’s subject matter suggests. (Nicole Kidman was also attached to play Lili.) But Hooper’s involvement makes it a far more daring proposition – because he has no interest in making a daring film. His clear-eyed, tasteful storytelling makes Lili’s struggle as easy to grasp as if she were a loveable prince played by Colin Firth. That doesn’t just make The Danish Girl watchable. It makes it revolutionary.
But there’s depth to be had if you’re looking for it, and tellingly unfaithful reflections – of people, landscapes, intentions – are everywhere. Even out in the Scandinavian wilds, where the film begins, a wind-whipped lake twists trees into new and beautiful shapes – while in Copenhagen and Paris, Einar catches muddy glimpses of himself in foxed-glass mirrors and smudged windows.
Einar and Gerda are husband and wife, and live in the kind of pensive, echoey apartment that was much-painted by the great Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi – although their own colourful artworks seem to leap out from the grey-panelled walls.
One morning, Gerda asks her husband to fill in for a life model for her portrait of a dancer, and Einar laughingly pulls on a pair of tights and squeezes into a dainty pair of ballet slippers. The experience doesn’t awaken new feelings, exactly, so much as stir some that were always there. The sexually adventurous Gerda finds it a bit of a turn-on, and together the pair cook up a plan to attend a society ball with Einar dressed as a woman.
She helps her husband find a wig, dress and make-up, and working together, they make Lili. Perhaps she’s a kind of surrogate for the child they’ve been trying in vain to conceive – a little bit of both of them, but also someone entirely new.
Lucinda Coxon’s perceptive screenplay withholds the lightning-bolt moment you might expect at this point. Instead, both Lili and Gerda are confused by the experience, particularly when she discovers her husband in a quiet drawing room being kissed by Ben Whishaw. (“You’re different from most girls,” Whishaw whispers beforehand, without knowing the half of it.)
It soon becomes clear that Lili is here to stay, and the film gives equal weight to each partner’s coming to terms with the implications. Redmayne has more of the obvious soul-searching – the actor does a lot of hand-twisting and delicate inclinations of his head as Lili tries to mimic the physical business of how women do things – and also, crucially, how they do nothing. (It also squeezes in that rarest of things: a dramatically justified full-frontal nudity scene.) Even in the film’s too-hurried final scenes, where the script’s neatness starts to trip over itself, Redmayne remains dazzlingly in control.
It’s the kind of obviously transformative performance that is likely to be Bafta-nominated by the end of next week, and probably also Oscar-nominated the week after that. And Redmayne, who won both of those awards last year for his performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, would be a more than worthy contender.
But the film’s secret weapon is Vikander, who’s been blessed with a role that has no truck whatsoever with the usual supportive wife banalities – at points she’s effectively its lead character. The Swedish actress glides into the film after a ludicrously busy 2015, in which she bounced between lead roles in Ex Machina and Testament of Youth, did fine supporting work in The Man From UNCLE, and even made a dignified cameo in the otherwise dignity-phobic chef drama Burnt. But here she’s better than ever – hungry, energised, up on the balls of her feet, and an equally convincing awards prospect. (Like Redmayne, she’s already been nominated for a Golden Globe, with surely more nominations to follow.)
She also perfectly delivers the film’s most moving line, which comes during her husband’s first consultation with a doctor about the operation that will finally bring nature up to speed with reality.
“I believe I am a woman,” Lili says haltingly, as if the words still strike her as somehow embarrassing, or ridiculous. Gerda turns to the doctor and says very calmly: “I believe it too.” That, perhaps even more so than the surgery, is the transformation that counts.