Review: Tomboy (2011)

Tomboy is French writer-director Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to the highly praised Water Lilies, and it again follows a confused child discovering her sexuality. This time the narrative centers on Laure (Zoé Héran), a 10-year-old tomboy. When she moves to a new neighbourhood with her parents, she engages in a gender confused role-play in which she pretends to be a boy to make new friends, not realising the hurt she’s causing along the way.

On the surface, Tomboy may seem like another film about a lonely child trying to fit in, but it’s a really rather intricate and dramatically insightful exploration into how, and more importantly why, one child in particular feels the need to invert their own identity to find acceptance in society or even within themselves.

Instead of launching in at the deep end, Sciamma opts for a more laid back and soulful approach, letting Laure’s personality etch out and unravel in a mysteriously yet fully encapsulating fashion, one that’s both completely and entirely welcomingly impartial. The bottom line is that Laure isn’t gay, nor is she transgendered: she’s simply finding a way to live her life in the most comfortable way possible.

Sciamma’s direction, much like her screenplay, is confident yet unobtrusive. Most of the mise-en-scene is colourfully minimal, with the action almost entirely set in Laure’s apartment or the nearby parks and lakes. The vast majority of scenes are shot from a distance, bar a few close-ups on Laure and new friend Lisa (Jeanne Disson) that, due to their opposing natures and concealed home lives, fully highlight their burgeoning yet deeply flawed and shrouded relationship.

The role of Laure is played to a degree of excellence by relative newcomer Héran. Despite being 10-years-old, she conveys such emotion, innocence and desperation for acceptance, mostly through her eyes and body language. The remainder of the cast – including Mathieu Demy and Sophie Cattani as Laure’s mother and father – offer strong yet cautious support, never matching the spirit Héran so naturally achieves, but playing off her with an incredibly skilled nature, especially for a crop of such young actors.

Affecting, well envisioned and delicately captured, Tomboy takes a serious look at the taboo subject matter of the sexual ambivalence experienced by children, suggesting that even though your biological sex is predetermined, this has little sway on your true sexual identity. Perhaps, in a sense, it’s played out a little too cautiously and only barely scratches the surface of Laure’s inner turmoil, but if viewers are looking for a true gem, then Tomboy certainly deserves as big a loving audience as it can find.

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