Biopics are the typical kind of films that are presented as Oscar bait around this time of the year, and I'm not the hugest fan of them because they tend to exaggerate or manipulate what happened in real life for the sake of melodrama and tears from the audience. This is the main reason why I was skeptical towards The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, who also was behind The King's Speech, a movie I loved, but also a not so satisfying adaptation of the musical Les Misérables. But I was finally convinced by the way they transformed Eddie Redmayne into a woman, according to the trailer.
This is the story of Einar Wegener, a Danish painter, and how he became Lili Elbe, the first transsexual woman who underwent a successful(ish) chirurgical operation to change her sex. In the late 1920s. It seems that Einar posed for his wife, Gerda Wegener, as a female model once, standing in for the actual model, and that is how he discovered that he felt more than comfortable in women's clothing. In the movie, Einar's first transformations into a woman are passed off as a sort of game for the Wegeners, but the audience can see his inner struggle and that it might not be a game for him after all. Whether this is how Lili depicted it in her diaries, I don't really know (I only have Wikipedia to work with right now, sorry).
Lili Elbe, 1926
In my opinion, these scenes are not subtle enough, even though they are powerful and they get the message across. There's nothing wrong per se in the way that the close-ups seem to indicate that we are in Einar's mind, but the movie is quite subtle showing us the emotions of the rest of the characters. There is one scene, in which Gerda realizes that Einar might not be just playing for the fun of it: the actress portraying her (Alicia Vikander) changes her facial expression gradually, from laughter and joy to doubt to realization and finally a shade of fear, all within a few seconds.
Secondly, as I mentioned above, the real story had to be modified in order to fit the movie narrative and lenght. Again, this is not bad per se but the resolution feels rushed if you read how long it took Lili to be operated, or that she and Gerda got a marriage annulation and Einar became Lili legally... something that some countries still do not allow almost a whole century later. Still, I expected a lot more melodrama taking into consideration how dramatic the story is, so extra points for that. Similarly, the scenery and the photography of the movie are great. I like how the colours turned brighter and more vivid when Lili was on screen but were darker when the focus was on Einar.
While most critics seem to disagree with me, I think it's a great movie and it raises awareness of the struggles that transgender people go through. I do hope that all the awards go to Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne.
Both pictures by Gerda Wegener