Thursday, 4 February 2016

On Viewing 'The Danish Girl' (2015)

I finally had the chance to watch The Danish Girl, which is one of those films I've been excitedly awaiting ever since filming started on it, which I believe was around a year ago. I remember quite well mentioning it as Eddie Redmayne's new well-researched project at the time he won the Oscar 2015 and when I therefore wrote a feature totally about him on EVE (here's the link if you'd missed it: http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/03/23/the-golden-boy-next-door/ )

In time, after the photo stills from the shoots were out, after all the promotional post-production work was done, and when we finally got the first glimpses of the film from the official trailers, it seemed to justify our anticipation, promising to be even better than The Theory of Everything, which had won Eddie the Oscar.

Fast forward to this week and my first viewing of the film in its entirety, I must admit my first reaction was unfortunately that of disappointment. Only minutes into the film I realised the direction, cinematography, everything to do with the filming in fact, seemed not to do the topic, as well as the fine young stars, justice. I am very much into artsy and I do understand that this was a more artistically inclined film than TTOE and yet director Hooper's latest film has failed to keep me enthralled.

That is not to say there were not bits of it that I loved immensely, from Hans' phrase "the Danish girl" when referring to Gerda (showing how the title encompasses both Einar's female side as well as his wife's gender) to the fact that the montage of landscapes from Einar's past (and his paintings) make up both the opening and closing scene, helping the narrative come full circle. In such instances, the production shows attention to detail.

However there are other places where an obvious lack of detail quite unnerved me, such as the missing scene where Lili and Henrik would have set their first date. It is obvious when the two meet that they had decided this beforehand, though they both of them seem to have had reservations about it. So why throw them together without prelude? Even Hans' transition from art dealer and Einar's childhood crush to a possible love interest to both Lili and Gerda is carried out behind the scenes it seems, without any actual transition happening in front of the audience?

From the start of the film it is obvious that there is to be a set of colour schemes that whilst being pleasing to the eye are also, unfortunately, pretty boring for a two-hour viewing. There is a repetition there, even in the contrasts, that quite echoes the monotone of the rhythm of the story.

This leads me to the question of just why did this film fail in comparison to both Hooper's legendary Les Misérables and Redmayne's best performance ever as Stephen Hawking only one year back?

In Les Mis, structure was the trick to making it all work and balance out. There were serious scenes and there were lighter moments (such as the song 'Master of the House' for some comic down-time). There were scenes full of actors and extras whilst 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' is a solo scene that shows the result of the revolution's massacre on life. Does The Danish Girl ever hint at any kind of measured pattern from one scene to the next? It seemed to me to fail in its continuity most of the time, both in plot and sequence, other than for its irritatingly unchanging pace.

Meanwhile James Marsh, in directing The Theory of Everything, proved to us all that there is no need for a documentary feeling to a story that can unfold as a drama above being biographical. In The Danish Girl it quite seems to me that both actors and scenes are telling a story rather than showing it. They move through their paces keeping time, flowing in and out of the story and from one place to the next, one relationship to the next even (Henrik and Hans both help see to this) without really being liquid enough in their moves.

Speaking of moves, I will still be praising Eddie Redmayne for impersonating the trapped Einar to transgender perfection because where credit is due I will give it nonetheless. Even Alicia Vikander engages with her heartfelt performance, making us pity the woman who so loves Einar and yet cannot keep him from slipping slowly further and further from the life they once shared. However my conclusion about this production is not as positive as I'd hoped and the production itself was aided further into cliché by the floating scarf that leads the credits right at the end of the last scene.


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