It’s somewhat unfortunate that the picture is entitled Tomboy, because the titular character is assigned a gender from the onset. With the back of her head seemingly floating through the world in Tomboy’s opening shot, Laure (Zoé Héran) is young enough to obscure the boundaries of gender. In her adolescence, she can pass for either boy or girl. And for the first act, her name is not uttered. In fact, when she introduces herself to the girl-next-door Lisa (Jeanne Disson), she goes by Mikael – she assumes a male identity. But we know the truth based on the title, and while that perhaps eliminates a sense of intrigue, it does serve to highlight what one can expect out of gender and sex; indicators of dress, preference in color, and hairstyle all serve to define a person.
Problematic a title as it may be, Tomboy remains refreshingly insightful. It’s a picture that views the world through a very innocent lens and attempts to convey how impactful a summer could be. Director and writer Céline Sciamma captures a spirit, wherein the rhythms of adolescence are so beautifully realized. Whether it’s Laure’s endeavors with her new friends or remaining at home with her family, Sciamma gives the audience the opportunity to view the world of this young girl from all angles. Despite its relatively small nature, Tomboy covers a certain universal terrain, wherein an adolescent’s identity is given the opportunity to be reshaped. Given that Laure is new to the neighborhood, she is given the chance to break away from her ascribed gender role. When Lisa approaches her, the opportunity to choose a gender or identity gives her more power than she has been exposed to. She’s essentially able to shape her identity in this brief summertime period.
As odd as it might sound, I felt that Tomboy has a kindred spirit in 2011’s Rango – both films take the concept of identity in an interesting direction, where the central character takes it upon themselves to embark on an adventure of self-discovery. A scene where Laure interacts with the children of the area, wherein she’s already assumed a male identity, has a particular adventurous weight. It’s not a film that is dictated by narrative clichés. It simply subscribes to certain realities (the summer must end, after all) and allows the world to progress naturally. Tomboy is the sort of film that the Dardenne Brothers would typically make, but the emphasis on the time of the season makes it feel so much more urgent.