Tomboy – Review

Tomboy 

Directed by Céline Sciamma. Cast: Zoé HéranMalonn LévanaJeanne Disson.

This small independent film was made for peanuts (Filmed on a Canon 5D and just a handful of people in the crew) and it is unlikely to make any big impact on the box-office. However I’m sure it’ll leave a mark on those few who will actually manage to see it. In fact judging by the recently released long list from the 2012 BAFTA Awards Nominee, where TomBoy shows among some other nominees, it looks like I am not the only person who has been touched by it.

Zoé Héran is absolutely wonderful as Laure, the 10 years old girl who’s just moved into a new neighbourhood where nobody knows her and pretends to be a boy (Michaël) with her new friends. Her performance is one of the best of the year, and possibly among the best ever performances by a child: she not only perfectly captures that innocence that children of that age have, but at the same time she seems to have a deep understanding of the struggle and the pain of her character. Throughout the film she really acts as if she was a real boy in a way that’s so believable that at some point I really started to wonder whether “she” was actually a real “he”. The film knows that and it does play with you by stretching the lie as far as it possibly can, until it decides to show you the real truth in a beautifully handled scene where you do actually see briefly the girl naked. It’s a fleeting moment and the film obviously doesn’t linger on it, but it’s enough to put our minds at rest so that we can carry on enjoying the rest of the story.

The director Céline Sciamma’s ability to film children making it look real is incredible. It feels effortless as if the camera was one of the children themselves and we as the audience are left observing them playing in the forest as if we were spying on them, or as if it was all a documentary. Rarely I have seen scenes with such young children that feel so honest and real: the approach is subtle and light, the atmosphere is almost muted, dialogue to advance the story is used to a minimum and the silences are charged with meaning and intensity.

This is a subject that rarely makes the news, let alone the movie theatres. And it’s so refreshing not just to see it depicted in this film, but to have it told with such an understanding, honesty and open-mindedness.

All this together with the stellar acting from little Zoé make the internal drama of Laure/Michaël even more poignant and powerful.

Be warned, this is a slow film (a very short one too at only 82 minutes), that has “French independent” written all over it, from its pace, to its rough look and its lack of music score, but if you, like me, love films about children growing up, this sensitive, tender and never heavy-handed story might just melt your heart too.

I saw it months ago and I still remember it vividly, so it must have worked on me.

8/10

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