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DVD Review: ‘Tomboy’

★★★★☆
One of last year’s hidden gems and BAFTA longlisted for Best Film Not in the English Language, Céline Sciamma’s second feature Tomboy (2011) is a charming, bittersweet tale placed within the formative years of childhood. The child in this case is Laure (Zoé Héran), a 10-year-old French girl who has recently relocated to a new neighbourhood outside of Paris with her parents and younger sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana).

Unlike most other girls of her age, Laure prefers to wear boyish vests and shorts instead of dresses, also going as far as to keep her hair short and neat. After she is mistaken for a boy by one of the children who lives in her new neighbourhood, Laure begins to masquerade under the alias of Mikaël, playing football and even catching the eye of local girl Lisa (Jeanne Disson). Yet with the school term fast approaching, and with suspicions arising amongst friends and family, Laure must face up to an uncertain future.

Unlike a great deal of other film that are apparently about children, for children, the U-rated Tomboy plays out entirely from the perspective of our young heroine. The adult world is of little concern to Laure – when asked about her parent’s respective jobs, she states that her father “works on the computer” and that her mother’s ‘tummy’ is big (i.e. she is with child), and is therefore exempt. Of more immediate significance is once again having to make new friends in a strange, alien neighbourhood, a task that Laure has clearly had to undertake before.

Crucial to Sciamma’s unbridled success is the superb young cast she has mustered for Tomboy. Héran is an intriguing, effortlessly watchable lead – we can’t help empathise with her plight, even when she’s sculpting a plasticine phallus ahead of an impromptu swimming trip at a local lake. Equally impressive is Disson, coy-as-you-like when sizing up ‘Mikaël’, yet also a model of maturity once things turn out to be not quite as they initially seemed.

As a director, Sciamma is beginning to plough her very own furrow of child-accessible cinema, able to successfully put her adult conceptions of the world aside in order to present a number of heart-felt, at times painfully truthful illustrations of childhood. Sciamma’s follow-up to Tomboy deserves to be anticipated with bated breath.

Daniel Green

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