Category Archives: Personal

Fifty Shades Darker (2017): a love letter to capitalism and patriarchy

Fifty Shades Darker is without a doubt one of the worst films I have ever seen. But if I struggled to understand how such a film could ever be released and embraced by the audiences two years ago when its predecessor, Fifty Shades of Grey, hit the theatres, this second edition to the series hardly left me in any such disbelief. I left the cinema utterly disgusted and shocked about just how bad a film can be, but surprised that this is what brings people to the cinema, that this is what women are willing to spend their money on? No, not anymore. We are living in a Trump-era after all, and it is hard not to see some parallels between Grey’s disturbing treatment of women and Trump’s own sexual assault accusations and disgusting remarks about him being entitled to grabbing women’s genitalia whenever he feels like it. If we are living in an era where the worst kind of misogyny can get you into the White House, should we still be surprised that this kind of film not only gets released without worldwide protests against it, but even makes hundreds of millions of dollars of profit? I guess not.

Grey’s luxurious penthouse could easily be mistaken for the top floor of Trump’s Tower (minus all the gold, although there is a Red Room to make up for that; or should I say REDRUM? Because let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time when Grey goes full-on Jack Nicholson in The Shining), and his naive, if not just plain stupid, young girl undoubtedly bears some resemblance to Trump’s damsel in distress as she, although not from a foreign country, continuously acts like she just fell from another planet. Having been reading 19th century novels by Jane Austen and  Brontë sisters for most of her adolescent and adult life, she seems to have overlooked the fact that two hundred years and three waves of feminism have passed between now and then, leaving Western civilization thoroughly changed in the process. Women not only got the right to vote and semi-equal opportunities in the professional world, but we also witnessed to a sexual revolution that gave us the right to form and claim our own sexual identity. But this all seems foreign to Anastasia who, at 27, is still a virgin. Which makes her a perfect victim for our modern-day Mr. Rochester who manages to win this clueless and inexperienced girl over with his pockets full of money – as well as with (or maybe despite?) his disturbing and creepy possessiveness that gets alarmingly romanticized in what should be a fictional (#FreeMelania inspired) caution tale about domestic abuse.

At the end of the last film we parted our ways with this troubled couple just as Anastasia, disturbed by discovery of Grey’s appetite for “kinky fuckery” (if anyone wondered whether dialogues get any better this time around, I hope this term alone answers your question: fuck no), dumped his rich stalkery ass and went to live her life on her own terms. But just as she starts working at her new job, Dorian Grey bursts back into her life – and he doesn’t need to do much more but to sweet-talk her over one really expensive dinner before she ends up right back in his arms. This time without the contract. But wait, just an hour and a couple of boring vanilla sex scenes later (seriously, for an erotic movie this film did not even manage to get this part right) he romantically proposes to her just as he wakes from a terrible nightmare (because this is how every woman wants to be proposed: during a nightmare that is quite possible a metaphor for a marriage that is yet to come). She says yes, of course – because how could she not if this is exactly what it takes for her to once and for all waltz into the world of the 1%? The contract is therefore hardly  ever mentioned throughout the film – but then again, isn’t a marriage licence (at least for a person such as Grey) exactly the same piece of paper? Won’t this certificate give him the ultimate control and possession of her? Won’t she simply become his property, obliged to do exactly as he pleases? This is, after all, what she is already doing – only to always putting up a bit of a fight before doing as she is told, like this will fool any of us about her supposed strong will and independence. He already has a file on her, has a hold of her bank account, is tracking her phone and even forbids her to go on an important business trip – which she dutifully obliges. So, what’s next? I’d say her getting locked in his Trump Tower (sorry, my mistake, I obviously meant Grey’s penthouse) where sexual assault will become just one of many ways for Grey to unleash his inner demons (but, as Trump would say, no sexual intercourse can be interpreted as rape inside of a marriage, so all is good, right?).

As I have already established in my previous review: this is a love story about capitalism (as well as patriarchy; the two go hand in hand after all), but this movie is quite less ashamed to admit that compared to the last one. A particularly laughable sex scene that follows their reconciliation is therefore not even trying to be erotic, as if the real turn-on for the audience is actually yet to come a few moments later: by Grey telling Anastasia that he makes 45.000$ every fifteen minutes. And because glamorizing the life of the 1% is all this film is actually about, the list of such ridiculous scenes just goes on: Anastasia getting to choose from custom design lingerie and costumes for the ball at the sight of which she looks more aroused than half of the time she and Christian are actually intimate; her learning about his place in Aspen, to which he smugly replies “I have a lot of places” (and off they go, to have sex, because what’s sexier than a guy you’re dating, even though possessing no personality whatsoever but a sadistic need to cause women pain, telling you that he has real estates all over the country?) and her learning how to drive his enormous sailing boat (one of the most ridiculous scenes in this film where I didn’t know if the whole movie crew was just absolutely fascinated by the fact that boats can drive on water or they just really wanted to sell this particular boat to us as the film seemed to have ended there for a second and jumped to a commercial).

There is absolutely nothing that is not to hate here – from awful dialogues and awkward and stiff performances (with the exception of Dakota Johnson who at times looks like she is actually making fun of her own role, which is really the only right way to approach her ridiculously pathetic character), to guest performance of Kim Basigner who probably got paid a nice sum of money to get a drink spilled in her face and then slapped just a moment later in the most fabulous Mexican telenovela fashion. But her presence mostly just reminded us of how much steamier erotic dramas could (and should) be, since her 80’s film Nine 1/2 Weeks, despite its obvious flaws, managed to do the genre justice that this trilogy can only dream of. Because to be honest, despite the misleading Darker in the title, there isn’t one erotic scene that I would not find laugh out funny – including the one in the big finale when Anastasia finally asks if they could make love in the Red Room. S&M, something that is supposed to be the biggest marketing niche of the franchise, is here once again reduced to using a satin blindfold and handcuffs (oh the kinkiness of it!) which eventually leads to sex in – wait for it – good old missionary position. Instead of normalizing the fact that some people indeed practice S&M and that there’s nothing wrong with that (as long as it happens in a safe environment and with consent of everyone involved), this film tries to normalize and romanticize stalking and possessiveness of a man; of him trying to dominate and control the woman’s life completely, in every sphere of her private and professional life, as if thousands of women aren’t endangered every second of the day by men who act just like that. As for the fetishes that should be at the center of this utterly awful story – the only fetish I managed to detect throughout the film was ultimately the one that both Grey and Anastasia share: money.

I’m Having My Own Oscars: 2016

I still haven’t seen some of the major 2016 releases (Moonlight, I Daniel Blake, La La Land etc.), but I hope this list nonetheless provides some good movie suggestions. Anyhow, before you continue to the link where you will find a full list of my cinematic winners, here are some special mentions:

Most memorable animal performance: Marvin the dog in Paterson.

Scene most likely to make you cry from laughter: birthday party in Toni Erdmann.

Best coming-of-age scene: Estela trying to figure out how to use a tampon in California.

The most heartbreaking scene: Mina putting on a burka before going to beg on streets of Kabul in Mina Walking (special mention: dog trying to survive on a deserted island in Family Film).

Most emotional music scene: Ines performing Whitney Houston’s »The Greatest Love of All« in Toni Erdmann (special mention: music scenes in As I Open My Eyes).

Best film about Yugoslavia’s space program: Houston, we have a problem!

Most brilliantly bizzare scene of the year: Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse in Swiss Army Man.

Best LGBT film: The Handmaiden (special mentions: Don’t Call Me Son, Being 17, Closet Monster).

Film that proved Kevin Smith smokes way too much pot: Yoga Hosers.

Film that made me wish Seth Rogen will never make another animated film: Sausage Party.

Film that takes eroticism to a whole new level: The Handmaiden.

Film that dares to call Slavoj Žižek a »fishy philosopher«: Things to Come.

Best funeral scene: Captain Fantastic.

Best sweaters: Chevalier.

Film that everyone should see but probably almost no one will: Certain Women.

My blog has moved to a new domain

Dear followers,

after two years of (somewhat irregular) blogging I have reached a far bigger readership than I have ever anticipated and I think it is time to finally take this to a more professional level and move my blog to my own private domain.

As of a few days ago, my blog has moved to a new url address (there you can also find my newest review of the film Nerve).

Hopefully we will all keep on reading each other regularly; however, I believe you need to start following me again, otherwise you will not be able to see my new posts in your reader. In case you do not choose to do that; thank you for supporting me for all this time. I greatly appreciate each and everyone of you who ever took the time to read a review or to leave a comment on it – all of this would not be possible without you.

All the best,

Veronika

The Danish Girl (2015): a dissapointing and conservative portrayal of transsexuality

tumblr_nzdmp3HlW31s3tn06o1_540I didn’t expect much of this film when I entered the cinema. I thought I knew exactly what kind of misinterpretation of transgendered pioneer Lili Elbe I’m about to witness and I was kind of right. However, the film still managed to disappoint, no matter how very little I expected from it in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like here – the cinematography by Danny Cohen is beautiful and Alexandre Desplat’s score is great, as always. Alicia Vikander also manages to give an amazing performance, but this sadly wasn’t enough to make this film a worthwhile cinematic experience. The biggest weakness was mainly it’s “all-to-safe” and conservative screenplay, not to mention it’s false portrayal of what could (and should) have been a story about the brave life of Lili – the first publicly known person who underwent a sex reassignment surgery in 1929. But instead of introducing us to the inspirational life story of Danish painters and spouses, Einar (later Lili) and Gerda Wegener, this film chooses to tell it’s own version of the story that is only loosely inspired by their real life (even though it gives the impression that it’s based on true events). The amount of inaccuracies in the screenplay was unbelievable and downright offensive, and since films are supposed to be much more than just pretty pictures with good acting, The Danish Girl ended up being just another example of a film where style prevails over any kind of substance.

tumblr_nyyk79Odaj1s8esgpo4_1280Both Einar and his wife Gerda were fascinating, open-minded and somewhat controversial people who lived in 1920’s bohemian Paris where they both experimented with their sexuality. Yes, both. Gerda was far from a woman who lived in a shadow of her husband’s talent and who wouldn’t get her big break until she started to paint her husband in women’s clothings. Apart from her paintings of Lili, she was most famous for her lesbian erotica art – which is why many wonder if she was, in fact, a lesbian herself. If not, she was most certainly a bisexual woman, since she supposedly had many affairs with other women while being married to Einar. She was therefore far from being a conventional wife who struggled to understand her husband’s transition into a woman. But none of this gets mentioned in the film; probably because of the fact that bisexuality is largely still considered a taboo in Hollywood studio films.

tumblr_nyyk79Odaj1s8esgpo1_1280This is why The Danish Girl ends up being a very conventional love story where Gerda, somewhat supportive, but unable to fully understand her husband’s struggle, gets turned into a martyr who sacrifices her marriage for the sake of her husband’s happiness. While watching the film, you’ll find yourself more sympathetic towards Gerda than Lili who’s slowly coming to terms with her gender and her newly established identity. To make a film about a transgendered person where your main sympathy goes to everyone else but that transsexual person perfectly demonstrates where the true agenda of this film lies, because it’s certainly not in representing LGBT community. When the credits finally rolled, I actually began to wonder whether the title The Danish Girl really meant Lili, because it sure seemed more like Gerda’s story at more than one occasion. Not to mention the fact that Lili often came across as an egoistical and downright selfish person who doesn’t care about anyone but herself. There was one particularly problematic scene where Gerda asked Lili if she could speak with her husband, which was a perfect moment to explain that Lili is, in fact, Einar (and vice versa); that they’re the same person, that they always were the same person. Instead, she only responded with: “No. Can I help, please?”, which came across as if she’s depriving her wife of speaking to her husband one more time. It’s awfully manipulative to portray her like that: this film was supposed to be about her inner struggle and not about the struggles of people around her. Especially when those struggles didn’t actually exist: Einar lived as Lili for more than 10 years before having a surgery, and in all this time, Gerda and her had a lovely, loving marriage. They lived together as two women for a long time before their marriage became annulled due to legal issues. After Lili had her first surgery (out of four; the last one in 1931 was fatal), she legally changed her name from Einar to Lili Elbe, and this made their marriage invalidate, since two women couldn’t be legally married at the time.

tumblr_nyyk79Odaj1s8esgpo8_1280Another problem that cannot remain unaddressed was how Einar first acknowledged that she actually identifies as a woman. When one of Gerda’s models cancelled her appointment, Einar came to pose in her place – and it’s in that exact moment, when he puts on women stockings and a dress, that he (or rather, she) discovers her true gender identity (which is, of course, misleading – she was born as a woman, and has therefore always identified as a woman, even though everyone else around her identified her as a man. Did the film tried to suggest that if she wouldn’t try those clothes on, she wouldn’t realize that she was born in the wrong body?). It’s not long before she starts touching her silk dress in a ridiculously erotic way, as if she didn’t just realized that she feels much more herself when dressed like a woman, but as if the dress actually turned her on. And at least the next half of the film continues in this fashion; as if her dressing up in women’s clothes would be more of a roleplay between Gerda and herself, and not about her actually being a woman born inside of a man’s body. That is until she starts to suffer from monthly nosebleeds and stomach cramps. If she’s actually experiencing something as close to a menstrual cycle as a “man” can get, then maybe there really is something more to her dressing up as a woman? Because only after that the film slowly begins to explore the possibility that she actually is a woman and always was a woman: but by that time it is already too late, the damage has already been done.

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Just as Jenny’s Wedding earlier this year, this film’s representation of homosexuality and transsexuality feels disappointingly conservative and outdated, not to mention the fact that a transgendered role once again isn’t played by an actual trans actor. It’s not more than two years since Jared Leto’s Oscar-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club opened up a discourse about the lack of trans people on screen – and yet here we are again, watching Eddie Redmayne dressing up and trying to (somewhat unsuccessfully) come across as Lili Elbe, when I am sure that there’s more than enough talented trans actresses in Hollywood that would be perfect for the role. It’s also somewhat infuriating to see that Redmayne’s performance got him another Oscar nomination. While I liked his performance in The Theory of Everything, his choice of playing Lili in the same physical way as Stephen Hawking felt wrong to me. Everything he did – from his hand gestures and smiles, to his excessive blinking with the eyes, seemed choreographed and forced. There was nothing natural about it; in every scene he looked like he’s posing for a portrait, but the most annoying thing was probably the way he batted with his eyelashes as if that’s the characteristic that makes you look the most feminine version of yourself.

The Danish Girl doesn’t even come close to representing trans community; nor does it tries to understand it. All that this film actually manages to do is showing us how trans people are perceived by cisgendered, heterosexual majority. And this is, for me, an unforgivable misrepresentation of a minority that deserved something much better.

The Basics:
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: Lucinda Coxon (based on a novel by David Ebershoff)
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw
Running Time: 119 minutes
Year: 2015
Rating: 5