A performance infused with great stillness and energy from actor/dancer Victor Polster drives Belgian director/co-writer Lukas Dhont’s affecting if uneven coming-of-age tale. Nominated for best foreign language film at the Golden Globes after scooping several awards at Cannes (including the Camera d’Or and Queer Palm), the film has become the focus of controversy regarding both the central casting of a cisgender actor in a trans role, and the wider treatment of transgender issues. Yet, for me, Girl works best when viewed as a distant cousin of Billy Elliot, a tale of fluid teenage identity intertwined with the inflexible discipline of dance.
Having recently moved home with her father and younger brother, 15-year-old Lara (Polster) lands a provisional place at an elite ballet school – a trial period to see whether she can “keep up with the other girls”. Lara clearly has talent, but she has come to ballet late, and her feet are somewhat unprepared for the punishment of dancing en pointe. Born in a boy’s body, she also endures a daily ritual of taping and tucking that seems even more painful than the demands of her classes. “You are already everything you will be then,” a counsellor tells Lara when discussing surgery, projected to follow the hormone therapy upon which she is now embarking. But for Lara, change cannot come soon enough, particularly when her classmates become cruelly inquisitive about her body.
Lara - Fears - School - Home - Support
While Lara faces down her fears at school, at home she has the support of loving father Mathias (played with immense warmth by Arieh Worthalter) whose concern about Lara’s wellbeing sometimes clashes with her own need for privacy. Meanwhile, scenes with younger brother Milo (Oliver Bodart), such as the dappled awakening which opens the movie, possess a tenderness and affection that is hard to fake. When Milo calls his...
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