Tomboy (2011) – Review by Andrea Carnevali

Tomboy ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A family moves into a new neighbourhood, and ten-year-old named Laure deliberately presents as a boy named Mikhael to the neighbourhood children. On at Chiswick Cinema tonight (Friday 17 May) and Tuesday 21 May.

This small independent film from 2011 was made for peanuts (filmed on the tiny and cheap Canon 5D camera, with just a handful of people in the crew) and while it might have not made a huge impact at the box-office back then, it did leave a big mark on me and those few who actually managed to watch it.

Now Chiswick Cinema is showing it again and I would encourage you all to try to catch it if you can.

Zoé Héran is absolutely wonderful as Laure, the ten years old girl who’s just moved into a new neighbourhood where nobody knows her and pretends to be a boy (Michaël) with her new friends.

Her performance is astounding… I would probably go one step further and call it one of the best performances by a child I’ve ever seen: she not only perfectly captures that innocence that children of that age have, but at the same time she seems to have a deep understanding of the struggle and the pain that her character is going through.

Throughout the film she acts as if she were a real boy, in a way that is so believable at was a point when I really started to wonder whether “she” was actually a real boy.

In fact, the film knows too well, we, the audience, might be wondering and toys with us by stretching the lie as far as it possibly can, until it decides to show us so-called naked truth (sorry about the pun) in a beautifully handled scene: it’s just a fleeting moment and the filmmaker, wisely doesn’t linger on it, but it’s enough to put our minds at rest so that we can carry on following the rest of the story, without further distractions.

The director Céline Sciamma’s ability to film children making them look natural and the world around them so real, is incredible. It feels effortless as if the camera were actually one of the children. We observe them as they play in the forest and it’s almost as if we were spying on them, or as if this was all a documentary.

Rarely have I seen scenes with such young children that feel so honest and real: the approach is subtle and light, the atmosphere is almost muted. Any dialogue advancing the story is used to a minimum and silence is charged with meaning and intensity.

This is a subject that rarely makes the news, let alone shown in movie theatres. It’s so refreshing not just to see it depicted in a film, but to have it portrayed with such an understanding, honesty, open-mindedness and such a delicate touch.

All this together with the stellar acting from little Zoé makes the internal drama of Laure/Michaël even more poignant and powerful.

Be warned, this is a slow film and it has that French independent film quality to it, written all over it, from its pace, to its rough look and its lack of musical score, but if you, like me, love films about children growing up, this sensitive, tender and never heavy-handed story might just melt your heart too.

It also happens to be a very short one too, at only 82 minutes (something of a rarity these days) it proves once again that small things (and quiet ones) can leave big marks.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival 2023

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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