Man finds the courage to be a woman

Man finds the courage to be a woman

Robert Tanitch reviews the last DVDs

THE DANISH GIRL (Universal). Portrait artist (Alicia Vikander) is married to a landscape artist (Eddie Redmayne) who enjoys standing in as a female model for her. Tom Hopper’s film is a fictional portrait of Lili Elbe, a woman trapped in a man’s body in the late 1920’s, early 1930’s, and he was one of the first to have a sex change.  The real story is more dramatic and more sordid.  The operation to remove the genitalia goes well. The operation to fashion a vagina proves more difficult. There is an extraordinary performance by Redmayne as the transgender: delicate, androgynous, feminine, pretty, sensitive, he practises being a woman and behaving like one.

THE PROPAGANDA GAME (Metrodome). What is life really like in North Korea? The chances of seeing an uncensored documentary is nil.  Director Alvara Longaro is allowed to film with the help of Aljmdro Cao De Benos, a Spanish communist who lives in North Korea and who is an eloquent propagandist for Kim Jong Un’s regime. We only see what the regime wants us to see and a visit to a church and a new flat are very obviously stage-managed. The spick and span streets are surprisingly empty. Asked what he is doing, one young man replies he is going to university to study to be a train driver. Asked what his dream for the future is, he is completely flummoxed and replies his dream is to be a train driver.

YOUTH (StudioCanal). A retired British composer (Michael Caine) and an active American film director (Harvey Keitel) are recuperating in a hotel spa in Switzerland. They are old friends. Paolo Sorrentino’s pretentious art house fantasy movie is about lost youth and there are lots of ugly bodies on view. Keitel says (speaking for Sorrentino) “I have to believe in things in order to make them up.”  The composer rejects an opportunity to perform before the Queen. Caine (with thick framed spectacles) conducts Alpine sheep instead. The director begs an aged Diva to appear in his film. Jane Fonda wears loads and loads of make-up.  Paul Dano dresses up as Hitler.  Miss Universe turns up. Paloma Faith says she is a singer not a whore. A monk levitates. The film ends on an operatic note.

THE LAST COMMAND (Eureka) is a fine silent movie directed by Josef von Sternberg and set in Imperial Russia in 1917 at the time of the revolution (vividly recreated) and in Hollywood (wittily sent-up) in 1928. Emil Jennings, one of the great silent actors, plays an exiled Tsarist general who now works as an extra in a Hollywood movie. He is cast as a Tsarist general and in his doddery, head-shaking dotage, thinks he is back in Russia. The director (William Powell) is a former Russian revolutionary who was imprisoned by the general. The contrasting acting styles is very noticeable. Powell is cool and sophisticated. Jenning is exaggerated and hammy. Jennings won an Oscar for his performance, a characteristic mixture of misery, humiliation and defeat. Powell said he would never work with von Sternberg again, finding him too autocratic. Von Sternberg said he would never act with Jennings again – but he did with The Blue Angel.

WE’LL NEVER HAVE PARIS (Metrodome). Simon Helberg writes and directs (with his wife, Jocelyn Towne) this American comedy, casting himself as a poor, wounded, pathetic, neurotic, weedy, Woody Allen-ish florist/pianist of 28 going on 18 who makes a fool of himself, chasing after the girl he has loved since high school. He goes to a very touristy Paris and behaves badly in the Pere-Lachaise Cemetry. What on earth does she (Melanie Lynskey) see him? She’s surely not going to marry him, is she? He degrades himself. It’s unbelievable she should be attracted to him.

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