This film has much in common with ‘Ma Vie en Rose’. Here we have the other side, so to speak: a girl who ventures into boyhood. Laure moves with her family to a new district. This provides her with the opportunity to invent a new persona so, when she introduces herself to Lisa, a girl of a similar age, she does so as ‘Mikael’. The clothes she is wearing, her way of holding herself and her hairstyle all back this up.
Once Lisa introduces her to the other local children, her identity as Mikael is secure. What causes her to give a boy’s name is not explained but, when you see how well she fits in as a boy among the crowd of children, you can see that something is making sense to Mikael/Laure. Laure looks and acts so much like a boy that, when the bath scene is shown, it is something of a shock to be reminded that this really is a girl.
There are sweet moments. Laure’s younger sister is accepting of Mikael and protects this secret from their parents. Her mother and father have a very good relationship with their children and seem to accept their daughter. There is no pressure to conform to a certain way of being. For instance, while the sister has long hair, Laure’s is deliberately shorter. The sister wears dresses, Laure does not. It is clear, though, and this provides the most dramatic part of the film, that Laure’s parents do not accept any type of deception.
Trying to live the life as the person you are was the central theme of ‘Ma Vie en Rose’. In ‘Tomboy’ it is less clear if Laure needs to be a boy or if being Mikael is just an interesting diversion. Whatever the case, it is fun among the friends being one of the boys. Director Celine Sciamma keeps us guessing about what is going on in Laure/Mikael’s head. In one scene Lisa applies make-up to an unprotesting Mikael and says he looks good as a girl. Her mother thinks so, too, when she sees.
The children are of an age when gender is less physically defined in the face and body, yet extra thought is needed before Mikael can swim with the others in swimming trunks; going topless like the other boys takes more courage.
The film is set in summer. Like summer, the fun times must end. This pretence cannot be maintained and things come to a head for Laure. This film has no obvious agenda. Whether this summer of fun is just a childhood adventure for Laure or the start of a gender journey into adulthood is left open.
‘Tomboy’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?