Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tomboy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 


"Tomboy" is a quiet spark of a film that has a revolutionary chemistry all its own. Even in the company of "The Artist" and "The Descendants", it would be a mistake to pass it by. The film has verve and a power in simplicity that goes beyond the scope of its episodic narrative.It concerns a ten year old girl who is more comfortable acting boyish and considered as a boy than anything else. 

The naturalistic filming recalls other films like "Leolo" and "Submarine" but this film is neither as surrealist as the former or as quirky as the latter. Rather than employ any Hollywood satire or sleights  of hand, "Tomboy" just shows a section of childhood as is, without any melodramatic fussing with conflict and resolution that are so prevalent in today's films. What we see is what we get: a tomboy. The film has more in keeping with Cassavetes or Warhol's silent screen test of Edie Sedgwick for all the intensity on this girl's stoic but spaced out face.

The girl, Laure (Zoe Heran) is blonde and stern of expression. She excels at sports and has no qualms about a playful or serious brawl. Rather than come at its audience with a force-fed emotional agenda like so many other directors, Celine Sciamma simply lets the camera drift from room to room in the over-large and isolated apartment block, illustrating little pieces of Laure's life.

"Tomboy" is honest to a fault and it is not afraid to show the little monsters of fear, spontaneity  and  cruelty that  exist in the hearts of children. The scenes of kids in a circle can be as tension filled as anything shown in a film by Lars von Trier, yet just when you feel events are going to take a dark turn, the kids including Jeanne, bring out a joke or a peal of laughter and the film turns on its heels within seconds. Regardless of the claustrophobia or whimsy presented in each scene, a darkness of prepubescent confusion and peer-pressure is not far behind. The packs of children are often silly and drunk with fear, playing Truth or Dare or they are shown as shy, timid deer in the forest, too scared to speak.

The silent and laconic monotone  of Laure is contrasted by the cherubic precociousness of her sister Jeanne (Malonn Levana). At home Laure is content enough to drop her guard. She cuddles with her sister. But once set for school, Laure casts the dress aside as if it were a poison cloak. She is more Huckleberry Finn than any young girl in cinematic history. But the film is far from cute. At one point, Laure threatens her sister with sudden aggression. Childhood is a dangerous game. And it is one that switches at whim from the paranoid to the paradisical.

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1 comment:

Jim Fleming said...

Great review! I think French (non-Hollywood) movies in general leave room for the viewer to draw their own conclusions and think for themselves. I appreciate that and get tired of being condescended to and spoon fed plot....Thanks Ian!