May 14, 2012 No Comments

Boys will be boys.  Girls will be girls.   Girls will be boys?  Sometimes.

Tomboy is a sweet exploration of a young girl’s summer gender journey across the boundaries of girlhood and boyhood.  This exquisite film directed by Celine Sciamma was not released in Detroit, but is happily available on Comcast On Demand and is well worth the struggle to find it.  Laure (Zoe Heran) is a 10 year old girl (we later learn she is a girl) with a pixie haircut who has moved with her parents and girly younger sister to a new neighborhood in suburban Paris.  She introduces herself as “Mikael” and launches a summer passing herself off as a boy.  The film is free of gimmicks or sermons.  The mood is quiet as we watch Mikael/Laure join the local children as the boy she seems to long to be.  There are no formulas to explain her longing.  There are hints of identifications with her father that seem compelling to the child, but she also interacts lovingly with her pregnant mother.  Laure’s younger sister Jeanne is the epitome of femininity, but fiercely loyal to her older sib regardless of gender.  The story is wonderfully minimalistic, which gives it a genuine feel.  The dialogue is sparse and we are spared listening to pseudo-sage children speaking like miniature adults.  Much is communicated through gesture, facial expression and glance. The film’s cinematography entices us with a sun drenched summer that captures the  apparent simplicity  of childhood that cannot sustain itself.   Laure’s increasingly complicated relationship with her new friend Lisa generates many questions and leaves us, at the end of the summer, without all the answers.  Is Laure’s summer identity going to shape her future gender choice?  How fluid is her sense of her gendered self?  What will happen to Laure/Mikael when her body takes it’s feminine shape?  (We see her measuring the small breast buds on her chest and sense she knows what is soon to happen).  Does she long for a boy’s body or a boy’s freedom?  (Sexuality has not really taken center stage yet, but there are clearly already problems).  The film avoids unnecessary melodrama and trusts the poignancy of its story.  The film is an interesting contrast to “Ma Vie en Rose” a must see Belgian film about a little boy convinced he has been mistakenly trapped in the wrong gendered body using whimsey and fantasy (and more melodrama) to unfold a similar theme.

It is a shame and probably no accident that Tomboy has not received wider distribution.  The simple matter-of-factness of the story and the admiration bestowed upon Laure/Mikael may be too confusing or off-putting for some audiences who demand their gender “straight up.”   How fortunate that Comcast was willing to air it for us….a definite “must see” movie.

Jolyn Wagner

Must See Movie of the Week

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