by Sarah Cope
Tomboy has been described by some reviewers as being about a “gender confused kid”, though in Zoe Heran’s magnificent portrayal of 10-year-old Laure/Mikael, I saw a child who was quite at home with her identity; it was instead society that was confused by her.
It is the summer holidays, and Laure has just moved to a new neighbourhood and decides to introduce herself to the local children as “Mikael”, and pretend to be a boy. This doesn’t take much of a pretence as she is more at home in this identity than the one she has to assume at home. There she is Laure, playing happily with her younger, tutu-wearing sister Jeanne (Malonn Levana).
Both the performances of the two child actresses are outstanding, leading me to wonder how much was improvised, so naturalistic were the scenes between the two girls.
The tension throughout the film is never overstated but always menacingly there in the background. When Laure models a Play Doh penis to wear in her improvised swimming trunks, we wince as we imagine it becoming dislodged and revealing the extent of her façade to the baffled children.
When the boys with whom she plays football urinate in public, she doubles over in agony as she is desperate to do the same but obviously cannot without revealing her sex.
But things really become complicated when Lisa, one of the other children in the neighbourhood, falls for Mikael, and is quite forward in her advances to him, having no idea he is in fact female.
The film’s subtle nature comes into its own here; is Laure attracted to girls? Does she in fact like boys?
Or, at the age of ten, is she simply undecided or uninterested? We never quite know, and the film is all the better for not spelling this out.
Laure’s awkwardness, brought on to a large extent by her double life and her constant fear of discovery, is in marked contrast to the ease and confidence of the other children, for whom life seems so much more simple.
When Lisa puts make-up on Laure and declares “you look great as a girl!”, Laure’s unease is palpable.
To reveal the denouement would be to spoil the viewing experience entirely, but suffice to say that the conclusion matches up to the rest of this short, original and ultimately moving film.
Tomboy is on general release.