Director: Celine Sciamma
Starring: Zoe Heran, Malonn Levana, Jeanne Disson
Release Date: Out Now
The plot of Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy is neither fresh nor surprising. From the thinnest summary we immediately know how this is going to pan out; someone lies about their identity, the lie grows out of control, feelings are eventually hurt.
In this instance our lying protagonist is Laure (Zoe Heran), the eponymous ‘tomboy’, and new kid on the block. When Laure introduces herself as ‘Mikael’ to the local children she finds not only the friendship and camaraderie she’s been longing for, but also the complications which come with leading a double-life. Chief among these is the attention she receives from Lisa (Jeanne Disson), who is drawn to the enigmatic ‘Mikael’ upon seeing how different (s)he is from other boys.
Meanwhile, Laure’s family are none the wiser about the new identity she has adopted. But as the summer draws to a close and the new school year inches ever closer, the truth refuses to remain hidden.
Though the same story has been told countless times in many different guises, what sets Tomboy apart is Sciamma’s keen direction and careful approach to the film’s subject matter. Treading the waters between childhood alienation and adult themes of sexuality and gender identification is no mean feat, but Sciamma manages it with the utmost grace and tact. To be frank, other directors would struggle to depict a young girl moulding a phallus for herself out of Play-Doh with the same level of nonchalant decorum displayed here.
Where the film truly shines, however, is in the charmingly natural performances coaxed from a cast made up almost entirely of children. Heran is perfectly cast as the shy and awkward androgyne, while Malonn Levana steals every scene as her rueful younger sister, Jeanne. The scenes of play between children are refreshingly natural and believable, lending the film an almost documentary-style quality in parts.
In addition, Tomboy is simply a very pretty film. Beautifully shot with recurring motifs of thresholds and spatial contrasts, it further drives home the themes of burgeoning adolescence and the restrictions of social norms. Ultimately, Sciamma has created a deft and touching examination of gender roles and taboos.
In a Nutshell: A delicate portrait of childhood innocence and adult taboos. Strong performances and keen direction breathe new life into a tired story.