Girls will be boys in the fascinating Tomboy
Starring Zoé Héran. In French with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Friday, December 2, at the Vancity Theatre
Changing homes is always upsetting to children, but with a new neighbourhood comes the opportunity for reinvention. That notion is taken to fascinating extremes by 10-year-old Laure (unforgettable newcomer Zoé Héran) when her family moves to an apartment block in a leafy Paris suburb.
Given her short, tousled hair, skinny frame, and sharply androgynous features, the viewer can easily take the new kid to be a boy, and that’s exactly what happens when the locals meet Laure. And she carries the game further by introducing herself as Michaël when the oldest girl in the gang (Jeanne Disson) shows interest. She can just about get away with it in a game of shirts-and-skins football, but a visit to the ol’ swimming hole proves a little more challenging.
In this short, perfectly judged feature, writer-director Céline Sciamma, who explored nascent female sexuality in her previous Water Lilies, is primarily interested in the construction of gender—a process that is probably much less instinctual than we are led to believe. Laure, not much of a talker, learns by imitation, and the process is so gradual, it is mostly invisible to her nurturing father (Mathieu Demy) and somewhat sterner mom (Sophie Cattani), who are already preoccupied with a late-term pregnancy. It’s a boy, of course.
The first to figure things out is her little sister (wonderful Malonn Lévana), a ringlet-haired, girly-girl giggler who doesn’t hesitate to exploit events for her own pleasure. With only a few weeks left before school starts, Laure/Michaël can’t play this charade much longer, and there is no plan B. When her mother finally catches on—intriguingly, her dad drops out of the story—her response is shocking. You are left wondering what is more inviolable: the taboo against girls liking girls or the barriers protecting male privilege.
Watch the trailer for Tomboy.