MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tomboy is a French film focusing on Laure, a child who moves to a new town with his family, introducing himself to new friends as Michaël, despite being born a girl and understandably always considered a daughter by his parents. Neither Laure nor Michaël ever talk about his problems but this is part of the film’s magic as you can always judge exactly how he’s feeling.
All the characters feel entirely sympathetic and Laure’s relationship with his sister is particularly touching, showing a really beautiful, simple and unconditional sibling understanding. Laure is so convincing as Michaël and it’s worth commending the fantastic casting and brave decision from young Zoé Héran to take on such a role. As an audience you completely except him as a boy, creating a particularly upsetting scene later in the film when he’s made to wear a dress. This felt so distressing and humiliating, it really is a credit to the film’s director Céline Sciamma that she could build towards such a moment thanks to some carefully slow pacing and character buildup. From one angle it was a female child wearing girl’s clothing, from another angle it felt like someone’s world was ending.
Much of the film centres around Michaël (aged 10) coming to terms with his body, a particularly delicate issue for any filmaker and it’s handled boldly. Tomboy is a film that could easily feel so much less than subtle. Sure, Michaël likes to play footballer while his little 6 year old sister is very much a girly girl, but this is hardly unusual. Zoé Héran’s portrayal of Michaël is so gentle, quiet and unassuming that even though his situation is obviously very unusual, you feel utterly absorbed and sympathetic with his problems. Similarly, his parents’ reaction could so easily have been overwrought or overly compassionate, but instead strikes a balance that fits perfectly within the context of the film.
One thing that didn’t particularly strike me was the way the film ended. It felt abrupt and I could easily have spent another 15 minutes with these characters with the hope of more resolution. But upon reflection, that was exactly the point of the film. Although still young, Laure or Michaël may well to have to spend the rest of his life coming to terms with who he is or is not, and getting other people to accept him. There’s no need for a neat “everything’s going to be ok” ending, because there’s still so far to go. This lack of resolution is what gives the film its resonance.
With a ‘U’ certificate (and rightly so), this probably isn’t one the kids will enjoy but it’s nevertheless a fantastically well made film and alternate look at the coming-of-age story. It’s sad and incredibly emotive. The pacing may not to be to everyone’s fancy but instead provides a really powerful and well observed character portrait. Certainly, the French childhood transgender movie of the year. A pleasure.
Tomboy is out on 16th September in the UK. Running time: 84 mins. Certificate U (UK).
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Review by David Rank