Girl – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Lukas Dhont
Writers: Lukas Dhont (screenplay), Angelo Tijssens (screenplay)
Stars: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Oliver Bodart
At the beginning the word ‘Lara’ is repeated three times in a child’s voice while the screen remains blank. Lara (Victor Polster) is then seen feigning sleep, lying on her bed, with her six year old younger brother Milo (Oliver Bodart) calling her name into her ear. Milo then tries blowing gently on her face but no response. Suddenly she awakes, springs into life and cuddles him. When left on her own in her bedroom she then undertakes a series of demanding stretching exercises. Rapidly it emerges that she wishes to become a ballerina. That creates more than one problem. Firstly she is about four years too old, at almost sixteen years of age, to begin ballet school. Secondly she has the body of a boy. However, she is fortunate that her father Mathias (Arieh Worthalter), a taxi driver, is not only supportive of Lara’s decision to become a ballet dancer but also of the trials that she faces as she undertakes the hormonal and surgical treatment necessary to alter her body.
The entire film centres on Lara and the multiplicity of challenges which she faces. Some are quite innocent as when Milo, being a disobedient six year old, refuses to get dressed for school and in his tantrum calls her ‘Victor’. Her fury is more powerful because it is so controlled. Other humiliations are far less innocent as when the other young aspiring ballerinas taunt her about her modesty in the changing rooms.
Polster was born in 2002 so he is the perfect age for the part of Lara. He is both an actor and dancer and he needs both of these skills in spades to play the role of Lara, which is both a physically and mentally demanding one. His performance is a tour de force.
The French title of the film is ‘Un Beau Regard’ which more generously encapsulates the complexities of this film than the English title ‘Girl’. Lukas Dhont is Flemish and the language of the film is Flemish which by any definition is the culture and language of a minority. It is noteworthy that it is the culture of a minority that is leading the way in explaining the challenges that a transsexual faces. Dhont has told this revelatory story from Lara’s perspective and the viewer has, as a result, at least some inkling of the challenges that a transsexual faces on a daily basis. It is a brave film. It sets the standard by which future films in relation to transsexuality will be judged.