Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Dir: Céline Sciamma
In 2011's sublime Tomboy, writer and director Céline Sciamma continues her exploration of the fluidity of gender and sexual identity among adolescent and pre-adolescent girls. Much like her debut feature Water Lilies, Tomboy is strikingly minimalist. Sciamma's already idiosyncratic structure and mise-en-scene style is the perfect method in which to explore such a simple yet complicated subject, although she makes it all look so effortless. Sciamma incorporates so much of what classic French cinema represents and her films share many of the characteristics of nouvelle vague as well as early European neorealism. Her mentor at La Femis, the acclaimed director Xavier Beauvois, clearly taught her well and I wonder whether she is already close to surpassing his work. As a director she isn't doing anything that quite a few directors are currently doing, the difference is that she is miles ahead in terms of believably and expression. She is however the only writer dealing with the subject as far as I can tell and she handles it with great respect, affection and dignity. The film centres around 10 year old Laure whose family have just moved to a new area of Paris. Laure clearly is going through the motions of early adolescents and after watching a group of boys playing near her new flat, she decides to join them but they reject her. She then meets a girl called Lisa who lives in the same building who mistakes her for a boy. Realizing that she may look somewhat androgynous and underdeveloped, she pretends she is a boy and gives herself the new name of Mikäel. She suddenly becomes accepted and popular within the group and she and Lisa develop a crush for each other. However, it's not a secret a 10 year old girl can keep for very long and the inevitable soon happens. What is interesting about this though is not just how Laure copes with the situation but how the other children and the adults in her life react. Much of the film is intentionally ambiguous but it does feel like all opinions are covered and overall it is refreshingly cliché-free. All that said, with all the writing and directional talent in the world, without an amazing performance it would all be for nothing. Zoé Héran is brilliant at such a young age and in such a unique and tricky role. None of it seems like luck though, the shoot was relatively short and was to budget, which was quite small. This is no-nonsense and talented film making, everything unimportant has been avoided and the story and the performances are all that matters. It's simple, it's complicated but overall, it's superb.

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