Film Review: Tomboy (2011)

Boys will be boys. And so too will girls. French filmmaker Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy tells the story of Laure (Zoé Héran), a ten-year-old girl who moves to a new town and assumes a new identity. Within the home she is known as Laure, but outside, she is known as Mikael. Her clothing and haircut is more typically male in style, and her pre-pubescent appearance is of the androgynous quality that most young children possess in their pre-teens.

At home, Laure’s life is comfortable, safe, quiet and still. Warm colours help create this protective shell, in direct opposite to the stark brightness of the outside world. There, everything is constantly moving with excitement and danger. The rationale behind Laure’s male counterpart is ambiguous however. There is a past of Laure relating to male activities, especially in contrast to her hyper feminine sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana). Her parent’s don’t turn a blind eye, but rather encourage Laure’s tendencies towards her true self where her father let’s her steer the car while on his lap.

Once Laure begins to play with children in the neighbour as Mikael, an acute awareness develops around the pronouns of “he”, “she”, “him” and “her”. It feels awkward seeing Laure identified as a girl, mainly due to the ambiguous nature of Laure. It is never quite clear as to the gender repositioning is due to a “tomboy” nature, or actual inner desires. This does work in favour of the film though, as it is quite likely Laure may not even be sure of whether she just wants to be accepted, or that she was born in the wrong body. Her ensuing childlike romance with Lisa (Jeanne Disson) is also innocent and doesn’t necessarily feel like a lesbian encounter.

Sciamma‘s script is strong, and highlighted by her tender direction and poignant performances of Héran, Lévana, and Sophie Cattani (as Laure’s mother). The most profound moments of the film surround the relationship between sisters and their playful childhood exuberance. Jeanne has no shame or pity for Laure, especially after discovering her Mikael identity, but is instead full of unconditional love. Lévana plays her with purity and adorable sweetness, while Héran captures the desire to be accepted simply as a person.

Tomboy is a coming-of-age film that details the pains of childhood and questions notions of gender binaries within childhood. After a painful and traumatic reveal, Tomboy’s ending gives us hope for Laure, without forgetting the distressing and hurtful scars that occurred.

Tomboy will be theatrically released on 29 March through Rialto Distribution.

3.5 blergs

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