While the film’s title certainly arouses suspicions, it’s not until about 20 minutes into Tomboy that the sexual identity of ten-year-old Mikael is revealed in a full-frontal manner. It’s late summer and Mikael (real name Laure) recently moved to a suburban apartment complex with her loving parents and sweetly innocent six-year-old sister. The reasoning behind the invention of Laure’s new personality is never implicitly stated, but her ruse allows her to quickly befriend the neighborhood kids with who she plays soccer, swims topless, and experiences her first kiss with a kind girl named Lisa. With her short cropped hair and prepubescent frame, it’s easy to see why the children believe Laure to be a boy, but once the truth is revealed her outraged mother forces her to apologize to the neighbors while dressed in a frilly shirt. Her friends don’t take it well, but with 4th grade just a few weeks away the truth had to come out eventually.
Director Céline Sciamma (2007’s Water Lillies which dealt with young female sexuality in a slightly more blatant manner) effectively captures both the boredom and magic of adolescence. The young actors are given the rare chance to freely chit chat on camera as they discuss what games to play, engage in an innocent round of truth or dare, and dance to pop music. Sciamma approaches the confusion of youth and the expectations of gender roles in a realistic manner that intentionally lacks concrete statements of worth, a move that will surely split the film’s effectiveness amongst audiences. At times, Tomboy evokes the work of Lukas Moodysson, but with a large degree of subtlety (aside from the scene where Laure molds Play-doh into a penis so that she can go swimming with the gang). In any event, Sciamma’s candid capturing of the polite conversations between six-year-olds should be applauded as these scenes serve as valuable reminders of the safe family fare that young actors are almost always relegated to.
Tomboy opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse (one week engagement).