Three Reasons to Watch: Tomboy
Every Monday, Curzon or a guest editor recommends a key film from the Curzon Home Cinema collection. This week, it's Céline Sciamma’s tender tale of a young girl’s transformative journey over the course of one summer.
As with her feature debut Water Lilies (2007), Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy (2011) draws its power from the smallest of details. Certainly, there are major moments of drama in the story of young Laure who, upon moving to a new town with her family, spends the summer passing herself off as a boy, Mickäel, to her newly found group of friends. The suspense leading up to the eventual discovery of her action is painful at times. But what dominates, making the film so memorable, is the attention paid to the minutiae of daily life. And in Zoé Héran, Sciamma found the perfect actor to play Laure/Mickäel.
There have been some extraordinary performances by children across a century of cinema. There’s Jackie Coogan’s desperate orphan in Charles Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), Enzo Staiola’s equally distraught son in Bicycle Thieves (1948), the incredible Ana Torrent in both Victor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive (1973) and Carlos Saura’s Cría Cuevos (1976), and Hassan Darabi’s football-obsessed schoolboy in Abbas Kiarostami’s The Traveller (1974).
More recently, Haley Joel Osment shone in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) and Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Saoirse Ronan impressed in Joe Wright’s Atonement (2007) and the entire young cast of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (2017) added credibility to his study of America’s dispossessed. Like Darabi’s portrayal in Kiarostami’s modest drama, Héran’s performance as Laure/Mickäel inTomboy dominates every scene. She doesn’t just convey the external transformation of the character; she sensitively captures the inner conflict of a child who is both confused by the sense that the identity they have been given is not the one they want, and feels sure of who they should really be.
Like Carla Simón’s recent Summer 1993 (2017), which features a stellar performance by Laia Artigas as a young girl grieving the loss of her mother whilst discovering the world around her new home, Sciamma’s film evocatively captures the lazy days of summer; days of abandon that ripple with discovery. Each one is an adventure for Laure/Mickäel. That Sciamma achieves this in an anonymous urban environment, turning the smallest area of green into a wilderness that the local kids make their own, only adds to the film’s achievement.
Unfortunately all summers end and Laure’s identity cannot remain a secret forever. But while it lasts, Laure/Mickäel feels truly themselves.
Three reasons to watch Tomboy
Few recent directors have approached the question of identity in such a refreshing and original way.
Sciamma’s ease with her cast – both young and old – produces some of the most vibrant family scenes and perfectly captures a child’s-eye view of the world, just as they’re stepping further away from home.
Following her success at Cannes with Portrait of a Lady on Fire (she was nominated for the Palme d’Or and won the Best Screenplay prize), it’s the perfect time to catch up with one of the most exciting European directors currently at work.
Ten year old Laure isn’t like most girls. She prefers football to dolls and sweaters to dresses. When Laure, her parents and little sister Jeanne move to a new neighbourhood, family life remains much the same. But with her hair cut short, Laure is mistaken by local girl Lisa for a boy. Indulging in this exciting new identity, Laure becomes Michael, and so begins a summer of long sunny afternoons, playground games and first kisses. Yet with the school term fast approaching, and with suspicions arising amongst friends and family, Laure must face up to an uncertain future.
Eschewing the more polemical aspects of identity politics, Sciamma’s sensitive drama instead focuses on a young girls confusion when confronted with rigid gender conventions. By turns funny and moving, and never less than authentic, it’s a beautifully understated drama by a hugely talented writer-director.
Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy is playing now on Curzon Home Cinema