The extraordinary lead performance by Victor Polster is certainly much more compelling than the film itself, in this decent Cannes Camera d’Or winner.
Dir. Lukas Dhont
2018 | Belgium | Drama | 109 mins | 1.66:1 | French
R21 (passed clean) for some sexual content, graphic nudity and brief disturbing content
Cast: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Oliver Bodart
Plot: Lara is a 15-year-old girl, born in the body of a boy, who dreams of becoming a ballerina.
Awards: Won Camera d’Or, Best Actor – Un Certain Regard, Queer Palm, FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes). Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)
International Sales: The Match Factory
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at Singapore Film Society’s screening)
A multiple award-winner at the Cannes Film Festival, including the Camera d’Or and Best Actor (Un Certain Regard category), Girl is the modest first feature by 27-year old Belgian writer-director Lukas Dhont. It even landed a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Accolades aside, Girl does seem and feel like a typical work charting the coming-of-age of a young person who is struggling with his or her identity. There have been many films of this mould, but Girl wouldn’t have been the toast of the town if not for an extraordinary lead performance by Victor Polster.
He plays a teenage girl, Lara, who is born into the body of a boy, but with her father’s unconditional love and support, she attempts to seek surgery. She is impatient to become a woman, though her dreams of becoming a ballerina gives her some focus amid the psychological uncertainty, even if her rigourous training sessions also take a toll on her physical and mental strength.
About 500 people between the ages of 14 and 17 auditioned for the lead role, both cisgender girls and boys and transgender people.
I think it is fair to say that Polster’s performance is much more compelling than the film itself, and deserves the price of the admission ticket alone. He is the presence and essence of Dhont’s film, quite unbelievable for a first-time actor playing someone of the opposite gender. Polster’s face and body language tell us a lot about Lara, whose hypnotic smile and slightly shy demeanour are endearing. Girl is an example of how casting the right person is 50 per cent of the work done, not to mention Polster is also a skilled dancer. It is near impossible to dislike Lara, whose relatability at a human level gives Dhont’s film a likable appeal.
As a LGBT film, it is neither flashy, pretentious or self-important. Perhaps one might even call it nondescript in a good way. There are some great sequences employing dynamic camerawork as Lara trains, captured in a series of long takes featuring medium shots and close-ups, somewhat reminiscent of the energy and intensity of Matthew Libatique’s work for Black Swan (2010). Girl is not just a promising feature debut for its writer-director and lead performer, but a sensitive portrayal of growing up as a transgender.