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June 08, 2012

Movies You Missed 42: Tomboy

TomboyThis week in movies you missed, a 10-year-old makes gender trouble in France.

What You Missed

When young Laure (Zoé Héran, pictured) moves to a new neighborhood with her pregnant mom (Sophie Cattani), her dad (Mathiu Demy) and her 6-year-old sister, Jeanne (Malonn Lévana), she isn't planning to pass herself off as a boy. But then she meets her next-door neighbor, Lisa (Jeanne Disson), who sizes up Laure's short hair and androgynous clothes and asks, "T'es nouveau?" ("Are you the new boy?")

Laure doesn't correct her. She offers her name as "Mikael." And so begins a summertime deception that leads to Laure beating up small boys, playing soccer, fashioning naughty bits out of modeling clay and having her first kiss with a girl.

Why You Missed It

You may have caught Tomboy at the Vermont International Film Festival or Green Mountain Film Festival.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, Tomboy is an intimate, naturalistic film in the European tradition. It isn't fast or flashy, but it captures the rhythms of childhood play, childhood experimentation and childhood humiliation. You may be reminded of films like Truffaut's The 400 Blows. It isn't didactic, but the issues it raises about gender identity are real.

Sciamma leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether Tomboy is a story about lesbian coming-of-age or simply the tale of a girl experimenting with boundaries. How far can Laure go in imitating the rowdy neighborhood boys? Can she spit on the ground like they do? Can she roughhouse with them? Can she treat girls with scorn? How powerful are gender norms, what does it take to defy them, and what happens when someone does?

We saw one harrowing answer to that question in Boys Don't Cry. What happens to Laure when she's discovered is not on that level of nastiness, but it raises additional questions, especially for parents, who may or may not approve of Laure's mom's handling of the situation.

Why do kid actors in American movies usually seem like kid actors, while kid actors in European movies so often seem like real kids? Maybe over here we just value "cute" over "real." In a featurette, Sciamma tells us how important it was for her to find child actors who were natural and unmannered. She succeeded with this cast, especially Héran and Lévana — who, as the girly-girl in the family, is adorable but frequently annoying, like a real 6-year-old.

One thing that may disturb some viewers: a flash of underage nudity. It's brief and far from exploitive, but would never show up in an American film.

Verdict: Not a thrill-a-minute movie, but a thoughtful one that deserves a look, especially since realistic films about tweens are few and far between in this country.

Other New Releases You May Have Missed

  • Bad Ass (Danny Trejo goes vigilante. 'Nuff said.)
  • "Breaking Bad," season 4 (Did I preorder this seven months ago? Um, yes.)
  • Cirkus Columbia (drama with a Bosnian War backdrop)
  • John Carter (Better than you think!)
  • Machine Gun Preacher (Gerard Butler in fact-based story about an ass-kicking man of God doing humanitarian work in Sudan)
  • Queen of Hearts (French comedy about a young woman seeking love in too many beds)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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