Girl: Sincere, yet Ultimately Misjudged Queer Coming-of-Age Drama
Lukas Dhont’s directorial debut has been controversial since its premiere at last year’s Cannes film festival, where it won the Queer Palme and Camera d’Or awards, but has encountered a strong backlash narrative from trans commentators.
The film itself follows Lara, a young ballerina (played astonishingly well by 15-year-old Victor Polster), through her first term at a prestigious dance academy while undergoing her first round of hormone therapy.
Where the film excels is in the moments of family interaction, Lara's relationship with her loving and supportive father had a real heart to it and it was genuinely painful to watch her growing depression and guilt at the sacrifices being made for her eat away at their bond and at her. There was also strength in the scenes between Lara and her dance tutor and counsellor, this is a film that portrays love very well.
Where the film struggles is in the representation of her struggles through her transition. There is a little story here with the idea barely extending beyond a movie about a teenage transsexual ballerina, and so the film falls back on shallow genre clichés that feel inauthentic and fabricated.
There is always a lot of complexity when dealing with issues of representation because there is no singular “trans experience” that a movie can portray. Nora Monsecour, the woman upon whom the story is based has defended the film against its detractors, endorsing it as an accurate representation of what she felt at the time, while others have stated that its focus on the body feeds into harmful and unrealistic stereotypes. In fairness, the lesson Lara is learning over the course of the film is not to obsess so much over her body, which she naturally finds to be easier said than done, and the film is as much about self-care and fighting depression as it is that nebulous “trans experience”.
Many also took issue with the cis-male director and the casting of a cis actor in the role. Since the role needed an age-appropriate actor who can dance to a convincing standard as well as portray Lara’s emotional struggles, this was always going to be a hard role to cast and Polster’s sensitive portrayal is the last thing about the film I would criticise.
As an artistic medium, the film has a tendency to exaggerate which can become an issue when depicting sensitive subjects, however, I have to say that I lean more in line with this movie’s detractors. There are some powerful moments and Polster’s performance does carry the film, but its lack of real direction does mean that there is no real coherent insight or much sense of understanding of its subject. Dramatically it just felt too unfocused and too contrived to endorse wholeheartedly.