(Dennis Morton and I, as hosts of the KSQD Film Gang, have always reviewed current theatrical releases, believing that movies are at their best when enjoyed the way they were intended – on the big screen and with an audience. But most important is the film itself, regardless of how and where it’s viewed. While cinemas remain temporarily closed, the Film Gang is shifting focus to reviewing previously released movies that our listeners might like to catch up with, or revisit, from the comfort of home.)
Last week, I reviewed Portrait of a Lady on Fire, written and directed by French filmmaker, Céline Sciamma. Sadly, its theatrical run was cut short by current events. This week I’m looking back at Sciamma’s critically acclaimed 2011 feature, Tomboy.
Tomboy is the tender story of a soft-spoken 10-year-old girl named Laure. Laure has just relocated to an apartment in the suburbs of Paris along with her 6-year-old sister and loving parents. Unbeknownst to her family, she immediately tries to pass herself off as a boy to all the neighboring children. The ruse begins with the very first friend she makes, a girl around the same age named Lisa. After Lisa introduces herself, Laure hesitates to reciprocate. “Won’t you tell me your name?” Lisa asks. Laura replies, tentatively, “Mikäel, my name is Mikäel.” It’s a lie that instantly snowballs when a moment later Lisa introduces Laure as Mikäel to a group of neighborhood boys. Tomboy’s poignant drama stems from Laure’s unsustainable charade. Compounding the situation is the growing affection Lisa has for Laure.
Laure’s motivation is somewhat ambiguous. She and her little sister, Jeanne, are extremely close, but their proclivities lie on opposite ends of the gender role spectrum. Longhaired Jeanne couldn’t be happier dancing around in a pink tutu or playing hide-and-go-seek with her sister. The boyish Laure, who prefers t-shirts and shorts, enjoys roughhousing and playing soccer. And she’s happy to see that her new bedroom is painted blue, just like she wanted. Perhaps that’s evidence pointing to Laure’s nascent desire to gender identify as a boy. Then again, Laure may simply be taking advantage of the narrowing window of opportunity her gangly, undeveloped body affords her in order to join a social group that would normally exclude her – the boys who engage in the kind of activities she loves the most. Regardless, by not spelling everything out, Tomboy stirs our imagination while keeping the focus on the interesting ways gender roles affect how we interact with one another.
Sciamma wrote the script for Tomboy in just three weeks, casting took another three, and the film was shot in only 20 days, making the end result all the more impressive. Zoé Héran, in her first starring role as Laure, carries the film with a delicate and reserved performance mostly expressed through facial expressions and body language. The character she creates in Laure is so likeable and sympathetic we can’t help but get emotionally involved with the predicament she’s created for herself. And all the children in the cast act like real kids, not precocious Hollywood stereotypes; they can be in turn sweet, cruel, petty and forgiving.
Tomboy is unrated but might be considered PG due to a brief shot of Laure stepping out of the bathtub naked. But it would be a great film to share with the entire family as long as your children are old enough to read subtitles, of which there are relatively few. Parents will appreciate the valuable lessons Tomboy imparts on the pitfalls of lying and the importance of being yourself. You can catch up with Tomboy on DVD, and it’s currently streaming on multiple platforms, including The Criterion Channel, Kanopy and Amazon Prime.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski