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Venice Film Festival 2015: 'The Danish Girl' + 'The Wait' + 'A War'

The Danish Girl

All eyes on Denmark and shelter from the rain..

The Danish Girl

Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard
Year: 2015

It’s the day of the Danes, sort of. With storm clouds a-gathering over the Lido, we look to our Scandinavian brethren for solace. Firstly, in the form of The Danish Girl, a film that has Oscar hopeful tattooed all over it. The most Danish thing about it is probably the title given that it’s a British production directed by an Englishman and starring an Englishman and a Swedish woman, with music composed by a Frenchman. Such is the world of international film these days.

The Danish Girl is the laudable attempt by a big glitzy Hollywood film to take on an ignored area. It’s the story of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo gender re-alignment surgery way back in the 1920s. Danish, obviously, Lili was born Einar Wegener, a prominent landscape artist. Tom Hooper’s film, he of The King’s Speech and Les Misérables fame, brings his glossy period style to bear in a gorgeous to look at and ever so tame account of Lili’s gradual journey from the body forced on her. Thankfully, it’s blessed with a couple of star performances to add a little life.

Eddie Redmayne, hot from last year’s Oscar win, burns up the screen as Einar/Lili, managing the transformation with jittery conviction. He’s matched every step by Alicia Vikander as Einar’s wife Gerda, an artist in her own right. With the less obviously showy part, she works wonders to provide the anchor needed to moor down the occasional flighty lapse into period beautification. If only it didn’t try so hard to be a prestige drama.

The Wait

With little else to do until lunch, I jumped back into the same screen to catch The Wait, a Sicilian set drama also competing for the Golden Lion. With Juliette Binoche and a Sorrentino-esque tendency to throw in pop songs and postcard shots, it promised far more than it delivered. Instead, The Wait lived up to its name, turning into a gruelling test of endurance as Binoche sits in a country villa with her son’s girlfriend, promising his return any day. It’s clear something has happened, but first time director Piero Messina takes so damn long getting to the revelation. He has an eye for shot composition, but please don’t make it such a drag next time.

A War

Now comes the second Danish connection of the day, this one more authentically so. Tobias Lindholm has been at the heart of a wonderful little cottage industry in North Europe of late. Aside from his work as Thomas Vinterberg’s co-writer on film’s like The Hunt, he was one of the driving forces behind the excellent political TV drama Borgen, and directed and wrote 2012’s A Hijacking that out Captain Phillipsed Captain Phillips. Keeping with the real life focus and working once more with Pilou Asbæk, alongside a collection of other faces familiar to fans, he’s turned to the field of combat for A War.

In unflinching style, he follows a Danish military unit in Afghanistan, and the fallout that follows a snap decision from Asbæk’s commander. The film takes on complicated issues deftly, drawing out the contradictions of combat while neatly offering a window into the impact back home. It’s a wonderful little example of the kind of thought provoking cinema that can feel so far away after summer blockbuster season. It drew several minutes of standing ovation in my screening which seemed like a pretty good place to stop for the night, especially for someone racing the rain without an umbrella.

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