Tomboy (Céline Sciamma, 2011)

It’s the summer holidays, school hasn’t started yet, and ten year-old Laure (Zoé Héran) has moved to a new neighbourhood with her parents and younger sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévanna). School hasn’t begun yet, Laure has no friends, and her heavily pregnant mother (Sophie Cattani) spends her days resting whilst her father (Mathieu Demy) works full-time. Not wanting to play with her little sister all the time, Laure wanders her new environment alone when she bumps into another girl her age. Lisa (Jeanne Disson) asks her name and Laure introduces herself as Mickäel, with no hesitation or doubt. Dressed in baggy boys clothes and her blonde hair cut short, Laure now lives a double life; playing outside with Lisa and a group of other boys who accept her as their own, whilst still pretending to be a girl at home and with her family. Tomboy makes it clear who Laure would rather be, but time is running out as the summer is ending and Mickäel’s name cannot be found on the school class list.

This film’s politics are dealt with quietly, if at all, with the main focus on how Laure silently tries to fit-in as Mickäel. The quietly innocent things that Laure does to become Mickäel feel natural and organic, quite refreshing against the repetitive tropes often found in other films that deal with the same topic. The lack of explanation from Laure or other characters as to why she’s doing what she’s doing actually brings more meaning and understanding to her presentation and ‘performance’ as Mickäel. The representation is certainly child-like and age-appropriate, allowing for the audience to have an understanding of Laure without any need to be told why she’s doing what she’s doing. She’s ten, and acts ten, and young children don’t necessarily understand their own actions. Politics are only bought into it when the adults and parents become involved, and when that happens there is a realisation that what Laure does isn’t harmful until told it is – then, and only then, is harm bought upon Laure.

Unfortunately, a very humble and clear message is made completely invalid in the final scene. The conclusion does nothing but eradicate everything it laid out beforehand, and despite thinking about the reason why the film suddenly veered in this direction, I cannot find one good enough. The strength of the film derives from the depiction of children knowing their own identity best because they don’t have to think about the consequences (only put in place by adults) , so to then have Laure happily and quickly denounce Mickäel throws everything away. This would have been a fine action to happen, but the tone of the characters and the scene’s placement and pacing doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, nor the previous actions of the characters. It’s almost like a different film; flung in there to cover up the true ending. It was a poor decision, and wrecked an intelligent and informative film.

Whilst the final scene was a massive disappointment, credit must be given to the rest of Tomboy, particularly to the relationships between the children. When her younger sister Jeanne finds out about Laure ‘pretending to be a boy’, Laure promises to bring her sister along to play with her friends. Instead of leaving her little sister behind and making Jeanne feel left out because she’s not old enough to play with the bigger kids – a classic sibling issue – Laure lets her enter her world, as long as that world is understood to be Mickäel’s. There’s barely an issue with convincing Jeanne, and she accepts it at once. At the dinner table that night, Jeanne talks about her ‘new friend Mickäel’ as her and Laure share a secretive laugh together. The in-joke that leaves their parents baffled just enforces the idea that the rest of Tomboy conveys; that children can be understanding of ‘difficult’ topics, such as gender identity, without necessarily understanding the complexities of said topic. Acceptance is all that is needed.

Whilst this is a lovely sentiment, and one that is fully expressed in a humble and truthful way throughout the film, it cannot be forgotten that this well-built depiction was ruined in the final moments. I want to recommend this film for everything it is and ignore the last scene, but what’s the value of a film if it devalues itself?

2/10 for the final scene.

8/10 for everything else.

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