Written and Directed by Céline Sciamma
The sophomore feature from French writer/director Céline Sciamma (Water Lillies), Tomboy is a light, lovely film about gender-bending and identity crises. Or you could say that Tomboy is a film about childhood that gives children a lot of credit. Set in a leafy Paris suburb during the last days of summer, the story follows a 10-year old girl who is mistaken for a boy, and then happily pretends to be one. Besides being adorable, the kids in this tale are sensitive, complex, and capable of deception. Tomboy asks for a great deal from its child actors, who deliver and then some; particularly Zoé Héran who, under Sciamma's direction, cut off her hair, channeled her love of soccer, and turned in an incredibly naturalistic and moving performance for any actor, let alone a pre-teen one.
There's about a month or so left before the new school year, and Laure (Héran) and her six-year-old sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) have moved to a new apartment in a new town. Their mother is pregnant and on bed-rest, their father is often working, and that leaves the two girls to amuse each other or find their own fun. Laure and Jeanne are very close, and very different from one another; Laure wears her blonde hair cropped and her clothes baggy, Jeanne likes to run around in a pink tutu. Of course, these differences are largely superficial, and Sciamma treats the tomboy and the girly-girly as complicated (if small) human beings. Still, appearances do count for something, and when Laure ventures out of the house in her boyish ensemble, her new neighbor Lisa thinks she actually is a boy. Laure doesn't skip a beat, and rather than correct Lisa, she introduces herself as "Michael." From then on, "Michael" enjoys an active social life with Lisa and her friends, scoring goals in soccer, getting in fights, even winning Lisa's love. Laure even manages to go swimming, by cutting her one-piece into a speedo and getting creative with a lump of playdough. But with every social triumph the stakes get a little higher, and "Michael" has more to lose when "he" is inevitably found out. The looming approach of fall and a new school year is always a little bit sinister for kids, but so much worse in this case, when it means the loss of your carefully crafted identity.
This is a beautifully shot slice-of-life portrait about the life of a lie.