French director Celine Sciamma’s new film, Tomboy, is a seriocomic portrayal of a child’s innocent desire to both fit in and take risks. Ten-year-old Laure and her six-year-old sister Jeanne, brilliantly played by Zoé Heran and Malonn Lévana, respectively, are the new kids in town. As Laure, an inquisitive youngster with a pixie haircut, settles into her new home, she sees a gang of children outside and is immediately drawn to their play—as any girl in the middle of her summer break would be. During this first encounter, she seizes an opportunity to introduce herself as Mikael to Lisa (Jeanne Disson), a fellow fourth grader who is immediately enamored by ‘his’ confidence. With her help Mikael is quickly accepted as one of the boys before the end of the day.
Each afternoon brings Mikael a new challenge as we watch her comical yet meticulous impersonation of “boy-ness” (she leaves her sister behind to play with dolls and crayons). Her seriousness in playing Mikael leads us to watch with bated breath as she undertakes all the usual events in any young boy’s summer day, from swimming in the local water hole to playing soccer. Laure/Mikael’s concentrated study and accurate rendition of the boys’ movements, right down to the way they spit, is enjoyable and heartwarming, and reminds us of the universal desire to be accepted.
Ms. Sciamma’s second feature film plays with ideas of self-discovery, the fluidity and confusing nature of gender and identity, and the lengths one goes to, no matter what age, to cover up a lie. The beauty of this film rests not just in watching the splendid actors but in the outward simplicity of the script: Girl meets boy. Boy is girl.
Tomboy is playing at Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St., now through Tuesday. Nov. 29. See filmforum.com for showtimes and tickets.