VOD film review: Tomboy (2011)
Ivan Radford | On 04, May 2020
Director: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Zoe Heran
Watch Tomboy (2011) online in the UK: MUBI UK / BFI Player (subscription) / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
“Are you new around here?” Lisa (Jeanne Disson) asks Mikeal (Zoé Héran) after they move into the area. Mikael nods, and the pair become good friends – perhaps even something closer – in Celine Sciamma’s tender coming-of-age drama. But Mikael has a secret: Mikael isn’t Mikael at all, but is actually Laure.
Mistaken for a boy by the local kids because of her short haircut and boyish clothes, she embraces the opportunity to be someone else and starts to pass herself as a boy in public. The result gets Laure into new social positions, surrounds her with new friends in a largely male environment and even opens up the possibility of a romance with the increasingly smitten Lisa. At home, though, she remains Laure to her parents (Mathieu Demy, Sophie Cattani), with only her sister, Jeanne, discovering the truth – and, by agreeing to help Laure cut her hair, ensuring she also gets to enjoy the perks of Laure’s temporary identity.
The fleeting nature of Laure’s deception is tied beautifully by Sciamma and DoP Crystel Fournier into the warm glow of the summer, which, too must surely come to an end. But the film, unlike Laure’s mother, has no sense of judgement of expectation of Laure; this is a sensitive, tenderly told tale of someone working out the fluid concepts of gender and sexuality before they’re even fully aware of them. Is she just a girl pretending to be a boy to fit in, or is there something more to it?
Such complicated questions aren’t new around here, as gender stories, issues and concerns are embraced and discussed increasingly openly in mainstream society, but what still feels new about 2011’s Tomboy is how lightly Sciamma handles such material; this a charming and respectful study of emerging self and self-confidence, powered by a stunning turn by Zoé Héran, who makes you smile and root for her while simultaneously breaking your heart. There’s an innocence and humour to this thoughtful drama that many today could learn a thing or two from.
Tomboy (2011) is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available now on BFI Player, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription.