Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Living in Key West with our gay community, drag queens, and Fantasy Fest cross-dressing, gender is not a word that I think about. But some do.
We’ve had movies that deal with the topic – from the hilarious “Victor/Victoria” to “Boys Don’t Cry.” We even had Linda Hunt winning an Academy Award for crossing genders as an actor in “The Year of Living Dangerously.”
Now we have “Tomboy.” It’s tweaking audiences at the Tropic Cinema.
This French film tells the story of Laure, a 10-year-old girl in a Parisian neighborhood who is mistaken for a boy. Short haircut and all that. So she goes along with the misidentity, pretending to be a boy named Michaël.
No, it’s not a comedy.
New to the apartment complex, Laure is babysitting her younger sister for her very pregnant mom. She meets a new friend that she likes a lot, a girl named Jeanne. When Jeanne mistakes her for a boy, she doesn’t correct her and deliberately assumes the role – savoring her newfound status, yet growing increasingly nervous as the first day of school approaches. There she will have to acknowledge her true gender. You know it’s not going to end well.
Zoé Héran is the pint-sized actress who pulls off this switcheroo. This is her first film (not counting a couple of TV movies). She nails that testosterone thing whether playing soccer or spitting on the ground. Hilary Swank would be proud of her performance.
The girl’s 6-year-old sister is played by cute-as-a-bug Malonn Lévana. A very feminine child as contrasted with the tomboy sister.
And Jeanne Disson is cast as the friend that Laure has developed a crush on.
The storyline is almost secondary to director-writer Céline Sciamma’s tender scenes of children at play. Her effortless camerawork makes you feel like you’re a part of the group. Sometimes it feels more like a documentary than a narrative feature film.
Here it’s summertime and the kids go swimming. This provides the film a handy device for dealing with the difficulties of Laure/ Michaël’s secret. A boy’s swimsuit with a proper bulge. Going to the bathroom standing up. All those male attributes.
In case you get confused by Zoé Héran’s convincing performance, there is a fleeting “Crying Game” scene to put your questions to rest.
Sciamma has already explored the uneasy topic of children’s libidos in “Water Lilies” (original title: “La naissance des pieuvres”), her debut film. The children are younger by five years in this outing, but the answers are not any clear about the consequences of being a transgendered youth.