Trans-themed Girl is an exceptional, moving debut by director Lukas Dhont
It's My Lifeby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Girl takes us inside what it’s like to be Lara (Victor Polster), a 15-year-old aspiring ballet dancer in transition, impatiently awaiting hormone treatment and surgery when she’s 16. She’s blessed with an incredibly understanding father (Arieh Worthalter) and wider family, a cute younger brother Milo (Oliver Bodart) and supportive doctors.
It’s presented as a vulnerable, lonely life bravely lived through small victories or painful setbacks. When Milo’s teacher calls Lara his sister, Lara radiates happiness. But when Milo is angry with her and calls her Victor, her baptismal name, it hurts.
Lara wants to be a ballerina and has the talent to enter a prestigious ballet school. Superficially she’s accepted by her female classmates but in fact her apartness is emphasised because for obvious reasons she’s reluctant to shower with them. The girls invite her at last to a sleepover, but instead of the acceptance she anticipated, they insensitively emphasise her difference. It’s painful to watch.
The film is a series of events in Lara’s life linked by regular assessments by doctors, ballet classes as Lara’s technique develops and by taping – Lara’s taping of her male genitals to give a female flatness and taping her bloody feet as pointe practise flays her toes. As time passes, Lara gets more impatient to transition fully and she steels herself to speed up the process in a horrific way.
It’s an involving, harrowing film that totally engages you with Lara. She’s a strong character, as determined about her ballet as her gender. Amazing too that it’s a first feature for director Lukas Dhont, apparently loosely inspired by the real-life story of Nora Monsecour, a trans dancer in Belgium.
For CIS people, to have such a close view of the issues raised by Girl is most likely an eye-opener and maybe a mind-changer. Yet for trans people, the film portrayal of Lara is sometimes seen as problematic: the concentration on her genitals, the lack of trans people involved in the production, some basic inaccuracies, the self-destructive action Lara takes, and, basically, that the film is a CIS person’s view of being trans, particularly in having a CIS male actor play a trans woman – adversely comparing Girl to A Fantastic Woman, which starred trans Daniela Vega.
But looking at Girl as the story of a young human being trying to achieve their full potential after being dealt an unusually difficult hand by life makes for a very, very moving film with a wonderful central performance by Victor Polster.
Girl premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize for Un Certain Regard, the Camera d’Or, the Queer Palm and the Un Certain Regard Jury Award for Best Performance. It is released on 15 March 2019 in the UK.