dir. Celine Sciamma
Release Date: Jan 27, 12
Celine Sciamma’s last film before Tomboy, 2007’s Water Lillies, broached the frequently taboo topic of early adolescent sexuality in a way that was genuine and occasionally touching but also uncomfortable on some deep levels, most of those related to the role of spectatorship in such a context. With Tomboy, she has made a far warmer film, one which allows her to explore similar material in a way that, while no more comfortable, is considerably more moving.
Tomboy follows Mikael (Zoe Heran), a boy settling into a new apartment with his loving parents and precocious, even more loving sister. Mikael watches from the porch as the neighborhood boys play soccer and roughhouse. There is conflict in Mikael, because at home Mikael is Laure, biologically female despite his insistence on “playing the boy,” as her mother puts it. Outside, though, Mikael falls in with the neighborhood boys, and even draws the eye of a local girl, Lisa (Jeanne Disson), who notices right away that Mikael isn’t quite like any of the other boys.
As it quietly moves through Mikael’s experiences trying to pass male over the course of a summer, Tomboy creates audible resonance around the most subtle moments. Most heartbreaking is one in which, during a soccer match in which Mikael scores a winning goal, Heran’s face beams, only to sink the minute several of the boys go off to urinate in the nearby grass. Mikael runs into the forest, only to be spotted by another boy, and the immediate shame that comes over his face is devastating. There are several of those moments throughout; largely, Tomboy is about the struggle of trying to solidify sexual identity against the broad pressures of parents and other kids, socializing on purpose or otherwise as they go.
Sciamma gets an absolutely remarkable turn out of Heran, who conveys Mikael’s struggle in so few words, and yet is so moving with every scrutinizing glance in the mirror or every attempt to keep up his story knowing that school is coming soon, and with it the revelation of his secret to the whole neighborhood, and more importantly to Lisa. The film wraps up as it must, not as we wish for it to, but ends on a surprisingly hopeful note, one which suggests that Mikael still has a choice, and has the true strength necessary to make it independently of anyone else.