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Danish Girl a mixed bag

Eddie Redmayne’s Lili Elbe fails to capture womanhood

By Zoe Case

 

Eddie Redmayne plays real-life artist and transgender woman Lili Elbe to much conversation and applause in Tom Hooper’s Oscar-nominated film The Danish Girl. The movie is beautiful — wonderfully shot and designed. The costumes, by Paco Delgado, are particularly memorable, telling the story of Lili’s transition through color and fabric.

The cinematography is full of rich imagery: a scarf blowing in the breeze, a ballerina dressed in white. Lili was a painter, and it seems cinematographer Danny Cohen took that idea and ran with it. Each frame is full of gorgeously hazy images, artfully arranged. The whole movie is shot as if it were a still-life tableau.

Redmayne has tender scenes, scenes of torment and scenes that show the anxiety his character endured as a transitioning woman in 1920s Europe. Much of Redmayne’s electricity comes from his obvious chemistry with Lili’s onscreen wife, Gerda, played by Alicia Vikandar. Vikandar, might very well win the supporting actress award, and rightly so. She is strong and vulnerable onscreen, especially in her moments of self-doubt and fear.

Redmayne almost pales in comparison to Vikandar. Watching him play Lili is like watching someone trying to understand womanhood only through the depiction of it the media puts forth. There is a lot of simpering and smiling through tears. The figures of actor and character never seem to coalesce.

One does wonder what would have happened if a trans woman had been cast to play Lili — what insight would she have had? What would she have brought to the role? And, maybe most importantly, would she ever have been nominated for best actress at the Oscars?