A drama about gender identity entitled The Danish Girl impressed audiences on Saturday at the Venice Film Festival as director Tom Hooper appealed for inclusive attitudes in the face of societal change.
In The Danish Girl, London-born Eddie Redmayne plays Danish painter Einar Wegener, one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery after discovering she was a woman in the 1920’s.
Wegener would later change his name to Lili Elbe.
The film marks another example of Redmayne’s penchant for transformational roles after his portrayal of disabled physicist Stephen Hawking won him an Oscar earlier this year.
Critics noted the emotionally nuanced performance of Redmayne’s Swedish screen partner Alicia Vikander, who plays Wegener’s wife Gerda. Her unconditional love for the man she married is put to the test as she sways between acceptance and alienation.
“I was profoundly moved by this unique and hugely passionate love story,” Redmayne said about the script, which is based on the diaries of Gerda Wegener.
British director Hooper said his film was not only about love for, and inclusion of, transgender people.
He appealed to viewers to accept people universally, relating the film’s message to Europe’s current migration crisis.
“What’s happening on the shores of Europe at the moment … It’s an appeal to our hearts,” Hooper said.
“The key to inclusion is love,” added Hooper, whose film The King’s Speech and its tale of a stuttering monarch garnered four Academy Awards in 2011.
The festival saw the premieres Saturday of two other films with strong female roles, but they received less enthusiastic reactions.
US star Kristen Stewart presented her utopian love drama Equals and her French colleague Juliette Binoche appeared in the Italian film L’Attesa, in which her character struggles to cope with the loss of her son.
While unconditional love was also the main theme in Equals, it received cool reactions by the Venice audience.
The film by US director Drake Doremus is set in a future in which people have built a safe and peaceful society by changing humans genetically so that they no longer have any emotions.
Stewart plays a young woman who has a genetic defect and can therefore feel, thus running the risk of being locked up in a special medical facility until death.
She and her coworker, played by British actor Nicholas Hoult, find out that they both have the same condition and start discovering what it is to love and to defend their relationship.
“If I was in love, I would fight for it,” Stewart said in Venice.
The star of the Twilight film series said she found it very hard to appear emotionless in her role, as her character is trying to keep her condition secret.
“What was so tough and so painful was to be like – nothing,” she said, drawing a blank face.
Although Stewart said she was very happy about the finished film, she questioned whether dispassionate people would have the drive to live on.
“Would we still exist if love didn’t? I think not,” Stewart said.
While Stewart had a problem with her film’s central concept, French star Juliette Binoche told reporters that she found Italian director Piero Messina difficult to work with at first on L’Attesa because he was too controlling.
“It cannot go on like this,” she recounted telling him when she confronted him to give her more artistic freedom.
L’Attesa starts as the French girlfriend of Anna’s son arrives in Anna’s vast and empty villa in a remote part of Sicily.
Binoche and her young female counterpart, Lou de Laage, play out a delicate dance as they skirt the question why Anna’s son is not coming home, using their eyes and faces as much as words to narrow down on the hidden truth.
While viewers may wonder why the girlfriend would not press for answers about Anna’s son, Messina said his film was based on a real, similar story that someone had told him.
“No one was saying anything that had happened about the terrible event” that had struck that family, he said.
Critics in Venice were not convinced by the film and booed and hissed after the screening.