This French film from young Director Céline Sciamma explores sex/gender identity at the crucial 'coming-of-age' time of life for Laure played with great depth and deftness by Zoé Héran. This film is not so much about the plot but the way in which the storyline develops and is explored so I hope you won't mind if I share a little of it.
Laure and her sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) move with their parents to a new apartment in the suburbs. Mum (Sophie Cattani) is heavily pregnant and needs to spend most her time resting. Dad (Mathieu Demy) works hard to provide for the family. The parents appear to invest a lot of time in their children and they seem to be very stable, loving and happy together. Jeanne (6) has flowing curls and exudes femininity. She enjoys cuddling her soft toys, pretending to be a ballerina, drawing and being with her sister. Laure visually presents a more asexual character. She is lanky and very thin with breasts showing on the first flush of the awakening of puberty, her hair comparatively short and she lives in a T shirt and shorts. She cuts a very boy-like figure.
When she finally plucks up courage to meet the local kids, ten year-old Laure decides to introduce herself as Mickäel and pass herself off a a boy. S/he is accepted by the group and as relationships develop so the complexities of the deceit have to deepen in order to maintain credibility. All this is okay except when Lisa (Jeanne Disson) who is 13 takes a liking to Mickäel and kisses him. As Lisa looks for ways to develop the relationship there are many awkward pauses. Lisa appears to enjoy the kissing much more than Mickäel. With the summer holidays nearing their end and the new school year approaching fast, how will Mickäel maintain the deception that s/he has managed to keep from her parents.
To be honest I am struggling to relate to this film as the story is so far from my own experience - but I readily acknowledge it is a story that will resonate with many. It provides a neutral and steady platform for questions of sex/gender identity to be explored as puberty kicks in. For that Sciamma must be commended. The stereotypical scenario would have been that Laure lives within a dysfunctional family with poor relational modelling from her parents but this could not be further from the truth. She has security, love and the encouragement to be herself.
It would seem therefore that the driver for her experimentation comes from within herself. There is very little in this film that could be construed as exploring themes of sexuality - it has U Certification after all. For me there was not enough of a suggestion to push the character into trans-gender or lesbian areas - but then that might have been because of the immaturity of her years. However, most of Laure's experiment centres on boy-like behaviour which places it in the realm of gender identity. With puberty beginning to kick in, who knows what kind of hormone soup was flowing through her veins driving her to think, feel and act the way she did. What she was seeking was an authentic expression of her 'self'.
This a good film through which to explore these issues and open them up for a discussion. The acting, when children are the main characters is simply wonderful - particularly Jeanne. I watched this as the opening film in a week long course with about 20 other people. I though I would write my reflection before the group deconstructs and reflects. I'll let you know what insights they provide. I'll give it 7/10.
On this occasion not much additional wisdom from the collective. Consensus agreed with my reading of the film in that it was more about exploration of self than a boy being locked in a girl's body - although someone reported that online trans-gender communities see it differently!
We were told this is a big big film in France - particularly with families who use it to open up discussion on these themes with children. It is also used by many French Primary Schools for the same reason. Interesting.
Next up, Brokeback Mountain and this evening Babette's Feast.