By Jack Jones – Céline Sciamma’s third full-length feature is a fine example of the value of a sensitive and conscientious filmmaker.
By Jack Jones
third full-length feature is a fine example of the value of a sensitive and
In the hands of an inferior director Tomboy may have fallen foul of sniggers and
churlish reactions from audiences. While the film is an imagining of the world
of a pre-teen child, the obvious themes of sexuality and identity are of a more
adult nature than the strictly child-orientated story would immediately
suggest. Sciamma is concerned with the fact that children, not just adults, are
in conflict with who they are and who they want to be. Tomboy is an adult film, not in the sense that
there is ‘adult’ content, but that there are mature themes and issues. Tomboy
is a wonderfully crafted and presented film that a wide range of audiences can
appreciate for its study of the perils of growing up.
When a young family move into a new home, the eldest child,
Laure, seems wary of their new surroundings. When Laure finally strikes up the
courage to speak to some local children, she introduces herself to a local girl
named Lisa. When Lisa asks her name, Laure coyly announces her name is Mickaël, therefore leading Lisa and the rest of the group
to believe that she is a boy. Eventually, Laure has to come up with more
elaborate ways of hiding her true gender, until inevitably the truth is
The beginning of the film hangs on
the ambiguous gender of Laure. To stereotype, Laure has the looks of a prototypical
tomboy, often wearing boys’ clothing and an absence of obvious feminine
features. The actress who plays Laure, Zoé
Héran, is flawless in her portrayal of a pre-teen tomboy. Her short haircut
and wardrobe really convinces you that she, on appearance, is a boy. While her
performance is the crowning jewel of the film as she transforms into her male
alter ego and adds delicate touches to her character as she searches for ways
to maintain her transformation.
There’s genuine comedy from the scenes where Laure fashions
a pair of swimming trunks out of a bathing costume and fashions a model of the
male genitalia out of play-dough. Vitally, you are always laughing with the
film and Laure’s creativity, and not at it. Tomboy also takes you into the world of a child, where secrets and
adventures are the vital elements of being young. The relationship between
Laure and her younger sister Jeanne is sweet and funny, but also shows that in
children’s eyes there is no prejudice. Jeanne accepts who Laure is and loves her
all the same.
Tomboy is not
without its difficult moments and the relationship that Laure establishes with
Lisa as her alter ego Mickaël, only leads to
difficult conclusions. While the tone of the film is generally uplifting,
Sciamma is not hesitant in pointing out the cruelty that both children and
Some moments may be particularly tough for younger
audiences, especially the scolding treatment Laure receives from her mother for
her transgressions, the scenes almost verge on cruelty, but Sciamma does not
settle for melancholic conclusions. Rather, she deals in harsh realities.
In this reality parents aren’t always understanding of their
child’s choice of sexuality or gender, as it only shocks and disappoints them.
One lesson that Sciamma is intent on pointing out is the harm that lies and
deceit can cause to others and not just yourself. Hiding your true self or
sexual identity is nothing to be ashamed of and openness can lead to a liberal
and tolerant reality.
Tomboy is a
classic, uplifting comic-drama that takes you back to the years where as a
child most of us were growing into who we are. Creating personas and alter egos
is only a way of attempting to fit in and conform, whereas Tomboy champions the value of being who you
are and following your true identity. Tomboy
is a great film parable for all of us to follow and learn from.