Few movies have left me pondering as much as Tomboy (2011) did when I first saw it. Directed by Céline Sciamma, this coming of age French drama provides a very nuanced portrayal of the freedom of determining one’s own gender.
When ten-year-old Laure moves with her family to a new town, her short hair and masculine clothes cause the other kids to mistake her for a boy. Following along to fit in with the crowd, she calls herself Mickäel and goes on to spend the whole summer attempting to creatively maintain her cover. The constant tension and fear of Laure getting caught then becomes an omnipresent villain, standing in her way as the audience roots for her to succeed.
The simplicity of the story allows for the audience to feel close to the main character and experience everything just as she is: confusion, fear, shame, desire. One of the most impactful scenes is when Laure is invited to a lake where everyone is expected to wear swimsuits. Her flat chest still masks her true identity, but the creative ways in which Laure attempts to make herself look like a boy allows us to understand the complex relationship she feels with her body. Through the whole scene, Laure doesn’t seem worried that other kids will find out her secret, but the audience is. Sciamma has allowed us to get so close to her character. We feel her pain even when she forgets it herself, making the movie both tender and painful at the same time.
Tomboy is a powerful examination of gender identity during adolescence portrayed both beautifully and painfully at the same time. Ultimately, the question about Laure actually wanting to become a boy or not is not discussed, but that’s part of the beauty of the film: it’s not about gender itself but rather about the innocent and fluid relationship that kids have towards it.