by Aurore Engelen
- Lukas Dhont delivers a jaw-dropping debut film about the emotional and physical struggle of a young transgender girl on the cusp of a transformation
Lara, a young teenage girl, is preparing to celebrate a key birthday, one that will mark the start of her transformation. Lara dreams of dancing and opera, and she is willing to put up any kind of fight necessary to make her dream come true. She trains her body, makes it more supple, punishes it and tries her best to make it bend. But her body is her enemy. Lara was born a boy. She puts up a daily struggle – the struggle of a dancer, and the struggle of a young woman in the making, as she is on the cusp of starting her treatment. But learning how to dance on pointe is a long road, just as it’s a long and gruelling ordeal to transform one’s body. This is the story of Girl [+see also:
interview: Lukas Dhont
film profile], the feature debut by Belgium’s Lukas Dhont, which has just been unveiled in the competitive Un Certain Regard programme of the 71st Cannes Film Festival.
During this transition period, Lara is supported by her loving and attentive father, and is supervised by a medical team that is at her beck and call and that is sincerely concerned about her well-being. She has joined an extremely demanding dance school, where the teaching staff fully accept and support her own particular dreams for the future. While the locker rooms certainly remain a place of suffering, as they are for a great deal of teenagers in conflict with their carnal envelope, it is primarily her own impatience that she will have to grapple with.
Opting to concentrate not on the potential external obstacles that may have stood in the way of Lara’s transition, but instead on her own personal journey, Lukas Dhont prefers to boldly and movingly examine the inner torments haunting Lara. It’s not the others who are hindering her transformation, nor their glances, and the viewer walks side by side with her through her psychological pain brought about by this hand-to-hand combat against herself. Here, only time is an obstacle – but what an obstacle it is. How, in the midst of one’s teenage years, can one accept the prospect of a change so gradual that it never seems to be within reach?
This is all the more relevant as the film begins shrouded in a soft light, set in the surroundings of a harmonious family life, where the young woman’s ambition and her future as a dancer are at the core of everyone’s concerns. But as the tale unfolds, as the training becomes tougher, and as Lara's body starts to suffer more and more, as do her tormented feet, the darker the film becomes. This is one of the movie’s main strengths, as it gives it a huge narrative breadth. Lara has a tenacious drive to force the last drop of stamina from her young boy’s body, not only by making it more feminine, but on top of that, by transforming it into the ultimate female body – that of a ballerina.
Obviously, Dhont needed to find a rare gem to carry the film, and he had the extremely good fortune to come across Victor Polster. This young man, a dance student, breathes life into Lara with a gentle passion, offering the camera his radiant expression that darkens little by little in the course of his quest, gradually allowing the mist of suffering to cloud his bright eyes. He is the beating heart of the film, in almost every shot, and is assisted assiduously by a spot-on performance by Arieh Worthalter as his father.
Broaching a powerful and red-hot topic, Girl masterfully steers clear of sensationalism, and accompanies the personal journey of a young transgender woman heading off in search of her body with astonishing empathy.
Girl will in theory be the last film staged by Dirk Impens and Menuet, as he has announced his wish to stop producing, after having facilitated the emergence of talents such as Felix Van Groeningen and Lukas Dhont. The movie was co-produced by Frakas Productions in Belgium and by Topkapi in the Netherlands. It is being sold abroad by The Match Factory, and is due to come out in Belgium in the autumn and in France on 10 October.
(Translated from French)
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