Girl (4 stars)

Girl

Tough, empathetic drama from Lukas Dhont about a young ballerina born into the wrong body

Issues of identity lie at the heart of Girl. Belgian director Lukas Dhont's poised, remarkably assured debut feature focuses on 15-year-old Lara (Victor Polster). Born male, Lara identifies as female and cannot wait to fully transition. As she conceals her genitals beneath painful gaffer tape, it becomes apparent that she is at war with herself.

Lara's dream is to become a ballerina. She is accepted by a prestigious ballet school and embarks upon rigorous training at the very point her body is changing and rebelling against her wishes. The constant repetition, bending, arching and shaping of her sylphlike frame edges the film towards the febrile territory of The Red Shoes or Black Swan. The camerawork becomes noticeably more agitated as Lara pushes herself to the edge of collapse.

Dhont's approach favours discretion. We don't know what happened to Lara's absent mother, or much of her life prior to the point at which we meet her. We only know the tangled feelings and growing frustration that she is experiencing. There are no real villains in the film. Lara's single father Mathias (Arieh Worthalter) is sympathetic and concerned. Fellow students are curious and sometimes cruel, but the real pressure comes from the demands that an impatient Lara places upon herself.

The result is a thoughtful, compassionate film with a star-making central performance from cis actor Polster. He has a willowy, fawn-like presence and captures a sense of the turmoil in a young woman eager to experience the life of her dreams and rubbed raw waiting for it to begin. Transgender reviewers have tended to be more critical of the film but, on an emotional level, it is a tough, empathetic drama with a performance that convinces in both body and soul.

Selected release from Fri 15 Mar.

Girl

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Belgium / Netherlands
  • 1h 49min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Lukas Dhont
  • Cast: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Oliver Bodart

Fifteen-year-old Lara (Polster) was born male but identifies as female, and dreams of becoming a ballerina. A thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic drama with a star-making central performance from cis actor Polster, although transgender reviewers have been critical.

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