I thought, when I chose my films for today that they would be emotionally challenging. I was right. Today’s movies have put me through the wringer.
I will start with Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, a poignant story about a transgendered transformation based on the life of Lili Elbe and set in the 1920’s. If you can even remotely imagine the challenges of being transgendered today, think about what it must have been like in the 1920’s. Tom Hooper’s last two movies were Les Miserables and The King’s Speech and once again he has constructed a winner. Eddie Redmayne plays the troubled Lili as she comes to grips with the realization that she is a woman in a man’s body. His portrayal is sensitive and emotional and will certainly win accolades. To me he has always had a boyish charm and delicate, vulnerable side to him that makes him a natural for this role. This is not like Tootsie of Mrs Doubtfire or Some Like it Hot. He needs to become a woman, or more to the point, show the torment of struggling to find who you really are and then how to detaining how you can live you life your life as that person. And he accomplishes this acting feat remarkably.
The stronger performance, however, comes from Alicia Vikander, who plays the spouce who must process all of this, be supportive and strong and show unconditional love. Her performance is Oscar worthy.
The color palate of the film was beautifully synced with the plot. At the beginning there were almost no other colors than muted grays and blues. Blue is my favorite color (except when worn by Stephen Harper) so I found this quite pleasing. As Lili’s transitional journey happens we gradually get the introduction of yellows and golds and browns, bringing more warmth to the austere, cool and claustrophobic blues. This film deserves an award for Art Direction. I mentioned how music played such a significant role in Youth where the main character is a maestro. In this film the main characters are artists and so the construct of having many of the scenes and settings look like art compliments the story being told.
I found one scene particularly disturbing. It was when two young men beat Lili up on the street. Bashing, bullying. To me it represented how society has treated people who are “different” and is still brings me to tears when I think about this scene. So I warn you bring Kleenex. And lots of it. Another one that gets 5 stars. Opens November 27 in theaters.
(2015 seems to be the year of transvestites and transsexuals for me – and I guess with Caitlyn Jenner, for everyone. I enjoyed Kinky Boots in July, took in this film today and am in rehearsal for the Rocky Horror Show, where the main character is a “sweet transvestite, from Transsexual Transylvania. My trans trilogy for 2015.)
By stark contrast but also disturbing was Beasts of No Nation, a Netflix film – first for TIFF – a fictional tale about a child soldier in an unspecified African country. Based on a book by the same name, this story could have happened in one of several countries but Uganda and Congo come to my mind immediately. It was distressing for many reasons, not the least of which was that this kind of exploitation and manipulation of vulnerable kids happens at all. The violence was graphic and relentless. The young boy, Abraham Attah, who is in the title role of Agu, was seemingly plucked out of school to take this part and his portrayal of the boy drawn into this horrible circumstance was intuitive and real. The other main part was of the commander of his rebel unit, played by Idris Elba.
Although I found the subject matter to be quite repugnant and disturbing, for some reason I did not get caught up in the film as much as I thought I might. The movie was a bit too long, then seemed to come to a rather abrupt resolution after seemingly endless scenes of guns and explosions and blood. I may have wanted to distance myself from this violence and that distancing might have also put up a bit of a barrier to keep me from engaging fully with the characters.
It is interesting that Netflix is entering this movie realm and I think that this film will be seen in selected theaters and on Netflix, at least in the U.S. starting in mid-October. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars with a caution for graphic violence.
Guess who was sitting in the row in front of me I’m the theatre tonight, eating popcorn and enjoying the movie with the rest of the TIFF audience. Michael Moore.