Tomboy (Rocket Releasing, NR)

tomboy smThe film hinges on Héran’s performance, and she pulls it off rather remarkably.

 

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In what had to have been one of the hardest parts to cast in recent years, young actress Zoé Héran plays a 10-year-old girl named Laure who poses as a boy named Michaël in Céline Sciamma’s new film Tomboy, which is an interesting and well-done look at androgyny, gender roles, sexuality, and other related topics—but as you can assume from Laure/Michaël’s age, it addresses those topics as they are found in children. It sounds like it would be pretty squirm-inducing, but actually here it is remarkably restrained and thoughtful.

The film hinges on Héran’s performance, and she pulls it off rather remarkably. Looking like a Stand By Me–era River Phoenix and never falling into emotive traps one would expect a young actor in a complicated role to fall into (which also reminds one of a young Phoenix, in terms of capability as a performer), it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to be unclear about Héran’s real gender until you see her name in the closing credits. Tomboy is something of an ethereal movie, where Laure/Michaël makes friends (s/he recently moved to a new town and is identifying as male from the start), confuses her parents, has a crush, etc., but with not a terrific amount of dramatic weight lying on any one plot element’s shoulders—it’s more about giving the audience a feeling and making them think rather than telling them a story a lot of the time. Of particular note in the film’s narrative are the two most fleshed-out relationships in the movie, one between Michaël and crush Lisa (Jeanne Disson) and the other between Laure and her little sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana); they both play well for being stereotypical and showing both sides of Laure/Michaël’s life and personality, but also because both relationships are a little more convoluted than they might otherwise be on account of Laure/Michaël’s gender confusion.

Aside from an ending that is perhaps a little too pat, it’s hard to find much to fault with Tomboy, which is quite a trick considering what a tightrope it must have been for the filmmakers to make a movie dealing with this subject matter. It reminds me of a short film from the Netherlands included on the newest Wholphin disc (No. 14) called “I Am a Girl!,” a documentary account of a young girl named Joppe who was born a male and is taking puberty inhibitors and looking forward to when she’s old enough to get gender reassignment surgery on her own. That film is a mere 15 minutes long, and it’s a shame it couldn’t have been paired theatrically with Tomboy, as they make nice companion pieces to one another and Tomboy is a scant 82 minutes. And even though that theatrical pairing isn’t going to happen, it’s nice all the same that two such strong films, one fiction and one nonfiction, have come out in such close proximity to one another, as this is a subject that was distinctly lacking in material. | Pete Timmermann

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