2007’s Water Lillies saw French director, Celine Sciamma examine the complexities of emerging female sexuality in three teenage girls. In her new film, Tomboy, she returns to this critical period in life to take a sensitive yet honest look at the difficulties experienced by a 10 year-old girl struggling with her identity.
Androgynous Laure’s (Zoé Héran) family move to a new apartment block, and, driven by her discontent with the expectations of being a girl, she introduces herself to a group of boys as ‘Mikael’. She is formidable on the football pitch, isn’t afraid of standing up for her little sister and even wins the attention of Lisa, the only other girl the boys are willing to hang out with.
Sciamma manages the difficult task of balancing the sweetness of the children’s trusting acceptance of Laure/Mikael into their friendship group with the inevitable heartbreak that catches up with her once the lie becomes unsustainable. As well as serving as a study of gender roles, the film also acts as an unadulterated celebration of the innocence of yo¬uth, with the lush forests where the children play only exaggerating the cold reality of the apartment block and the impending troubles headed Laure’s way.
It’s rare to see so much of a film’s running time taken up by child actors, even rarer to see child actors so capable of handling subject matter of this complexity with such maturity and ability. The scenes with Laure and her sister stand out in particular, both for the convincingly affectionate sibling relationship but also the heartstrings they pull on with regards to Laure’s inevitable plunge from the precipice of innocence. Tomboy should be seen by anyone who was ever unsure of anything as a child.
Tomboy is out now.
Text: Joe Iley