Criterion Prediction #276: Tomboy, by Alexander Miller

Title: Tomboy 

Year: 2011

Director: Céline Sciamma

Cast: Zoé Héran, Malon Lévana, Jeanne Disson, Sophie Cattani

Synopsis:After moving to a new town for the summer, Laure, an androgynous ten-year-old Laure (Héran), is mistaken for a boy by the local kids. However, this awakens something in her, and she enthusiastically commits to the facade going by the name Mikael. 

Critique: Tomboy is a bold film about the complexities of gender, yet it’s a crisp viewing experience that holds you captive with its subtle intensity and lets you get lost with its youthful characters in this sunnily rendered coming-of-age yarn. Sciamma tap’s into something special with Tomboy and it’s something relatively simple that puts the potential for thematic complexity and overwrought dramatization on the sidelines; it’s a tale of growing pains and the emotional tumult of fitting in, finding oneself at a developmental juncture that is all the more vexing because it’s not the hormonal minefield of puberty but the perplexing primer that is pre-adolescence. A time when you start forming crushes, a period when you develop a crude sense of sexual awareness but you’re still condemned to a couple more years at the kid’s table. 

Throughout there’s an unspoken and moving presence because Sciamma puts so much onto her young cast, and the result is potent naturalism. The material states itself with such bare sincerity; the child actors revel in this secular community of newly minted individuality and agency often awarded to kids at that age. When the neighborhood collective is palling around the basketball court, playing around the pond, swimming, and wrestling, the film is aligned with the sunny haze of remembrance and those yearning moments of longing that are often conjured in these early junctures of socializing. And in doing so, the film isn’t making a proclamation about gender but directs us to look at the ways in which gender roles profoundly impact our perception.

Why It Belongs in the Collection: Showcased as part of The Criterion Channel’s “Masc” films during Pride Month, Tomboy bears nearly all the hallmarks of a Criterion title. Arthouse recognition, international acclaim, and the work of a noted auteur, Sciamma, whose work is already a part of the collection with Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Petit Maman, it seems like Tomboy is less a “will they” and more of a “when they.”

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