Review: Girl

The movies are still conflicted when it comes to portraying LGBTQ individuals, not because the portraits are necessarily difficult to convey with sensitivity and honesty, but because the very act of representation is fraught. Heterosexual cisgender actors and actresses still mostly play the parts of gay, bi, and transgender individuals, and gay, bi, and transgender actors are justifiably upset, to say the least. The titular character in Lukas Dhont’s Girl, a young transgender woman trying to make it as a ballerina, is played by Victor Polster, a cisgender male, and while it’s not central to our appreciation of the movie’s merits to wonder if it might not have been better to have hired a nonbinary actor for the role, it’s difficult these days to dismiss the notion as you’re watching the movie, and that’s an unwanted and, for all intents and purposes, avoidable distraction.

Lara has just been accepted at one of Belgium’s most celebrated ballet schools, and thus the movie is full of scenes of her suffering for her art. Mention is made that Lara, having been born with a male body, has not trained enough en pointe, and therefore is way behind the learning curve compared to her cisgender female classmates. She’s also undergoing hormone treatments (paid for by Belgium’s national health insurance, it seems, a point that I, as an American, think should be stressed more), thus making her daily routine that much more stressful in her runup to sex reassignment surgery. She has yet to develop breasts and tapes her penis between her legs, which is painful and embarrassing.

Dhont is not squeamish about Lara’s body, and often films the 15-year-old Polster naked. The purpose is to show Lara’s uneasiness with her body as it is now, but as with the actor-character matchup, this directorial decision can’t help but draw attention to things that we don’t need to think about, namely, Polster’s willingness to let is all hang out, so to speak. The only time this device is used to real dramatic advantage is during a party when some bullies force Lara to show her genitals. That said, most of the other characters support Lara’s transition, including her father (Arieh Worthalter), her psychiatrist (Valentijn Dhaenens), and her physician (Katelijne Damen), all of whom go out of their way to accommodate her emotional and physical needs. The problem is Lara herself, who has yet to fully accept her decision even if she feels transitioning is inevitable. In essence, Dhont tells a story that is all too familiar to LGBTQ people—that sexual minorities invariably pay a high price for their orientation, and so their lives are interesting simply because of their inherent “drama.” That, of course, is why we watch movies, but too much of Girl trades in drama for drama’s sake. We never get a sense of Lara as person, only as a victim, and it’s not really clear what she’s a victim “of,” except maybe her own insecurities, which all teens have. This isn’t to say there aren’t existential threats to her well-being as a trans person; but Dhont takes them for granted. Girl is certainly a sensitive and honest film, but it raises more questions than it answers.

In French and Flemish. Opens July 5 in Tokyo at Shinuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670), Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Bunkamura Le Cinema Shibuya (03-3477-9264).

Girl home page in Japanese.

photo (c) Menuet 2018

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