DVD Review - Tomboy

This French film premiered at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival, the same festival that premiered Romeos, the German film about a transgendered teenage boy. A transgendered boy is a boy who was physically born a girl. Tomboy is comparable because it's also about a possible transgendered boy, the exception being he isn't teenage. His name is Mikael. At least, Mikael is how the 10-year-old introduces himself. It's only confusing when Mikael's mother calls him Laure. Yet, it ceases to be confusing when we see Mikael stand fully nude after stepping out a bathtub.

Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, this movie explores what it's like for a transgendered person in the prepubescent stage. Aside from a documentary or two and one Barbara Walters special, a transgendered person hasn't really been depicted in a fiction film at this young an age. Without melodrama or over sentimentality, Sciamma handles it with a tenderness to match.

Having seen Romeos, there are similarities between the two. There are scenes in both that show the girl trying to be a boy but faced with obstacles that would reveal the truth. In Romeos, the main character has to hide the fact that he had breasts. In Tomboy, the main character doesn't have breasts but he doesn't have a penis either. So, in this case, it's not about concealing something he has that he doesn't want. It's about creating something that will further an illusion. Both films have this issue come to a head at a swimming hole. Both films also have the bow break during a slip of the little sister's tongue.

The little sister here is Jeanne, played by Malonn Lévana, and Sciamma directs her extremely well. At first, Jeanne is having fun, just naturally doing what a 5 or 6-year-old would do. Her relationship with Mikael is warm and loving, especially in how close they are, but it's interesting how insightful she becomes about who Mikael is and what he's doing. This is evident in a dinner scene when Jeanne has to be subtle and coy with Mikael's secret. It's also very evident in that same scene as well as another when Jeanne is obviously lying in a great sense of dramatic irony.

Sciamma also brilliantly directs Zoé Héran who plays Mikael. If not for the nude scene, you would think that Mikael is totally male, but being convincing as a boy is not the beauty of the performance. The beauty lies in Héran's longing. We see Mikael long to fit with the boys playing soccer. He longs to be able to love a pretty girl named Lisa. He longs to be able to urinate standing up. Looking in Héran's eyes, you see that longing and that fear of not having it or being found out.

You also see it in a scene when Mikael has to wear a dress and it's clear that he is the most uncomfortable child ever. Mikael looks at other boys studying them, which doesn't make sense. He shouldn't be learning behavior unless Sciamma was making the point that all gender is learned. All of this builds to one of the most uncomfortable moments I've seen in a while. It perhaps took the movie to a place it didn't need to go and added a level of danger it shouldn't have had. Yet, the children here were all fantastic.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for ages 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.


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