Tomboy – the magnificent middle chapter in Céline Sciamma’s thematically linked ‘Coming-of-Age Trilogy’, sandwiched between her debut film Water Lilies and Girlhood – is a superbly framed, layered, minimalist and defiantly powerful exploration of non-binary gender identity and gender fluidity, and in turn the oppression of heteronormative societal structures. That these complex themes were handled with exquisite tenderness and a nuanced low-key approach, and within the framework of an affecting coming-of-age story of a young girl struggling to understand who she’s expected to be vis-à-vis who she wants to be, made this an alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking work. Laure (Zoé Héran) is a 10-year old prepubescent girl who, upon relocating to a sleepy Paris suburb with her closely-knit family – comprising of her loving dad (Mathieu Demy), pregnant domineering mother (Sophie Cattani) and cute li’l sister (Malonn Lévana) – finds this an ideal opportunity to experiment with her gender expression, by exploiting her androgynous physical appearance and her anonymity. Hence, to Lisa (Jeanne Disson), who she befriends, and the other kids in the neighbourhood who she joins in their frolic, she presents herself as Mickaël, viz. a boy. This sudden sense of freedom allows her to manifest her trans nature with breathtaking abandon – be it in going shirtless while playing football with the boys or going for a swim in an improvised bathing suit or embarking on first love with Lisa – even if, as one anticipates with a brooding sense of sadness despite the moments of carefree joy, things will invariably and inevitably turn tragically sour. Héran’s fabulous and fearless turn, and Sciamma’s extraordinarily assured treatment of this delicate subject, made this underrated gem all the more affecting, poignant and eloquent.
Director: Celine Sciamma