In the French movie Tomboy (2011), directed by Céline Sciamma, a 10-year-old girl named Laure (Zoé Héran) moves into a new neighborhood one summer and, only among her peers, pretends to be a boy named Mikael.
Sciamma has said that she sees the film as portraying “a child’s first real life experiment with gender.” My source? Skip the Makeup, a blog that discusses transgender issues as portrayed in film and other media. The same post also states that Sciamma used the English term “tomboy” for the title because the French term would be “garçon manqué”—which interprets as “failed boy,” a meaning she didn’t want to convey.
Much of what we see in the film is the day-to-day life of Laure at home with her younger sister and her parents—a loving family—who don’t at first know about her other identity. This alternates with us seeing Mikael at play, trying to fit in with his new friends. Significant anxiety is generated in us as we watch—we’re afraid of various things that may go terribly wrong if/when he/she gets “caught” by the other kids.
Skip the Makeup describes what’s likely to be the developmental process of a kid like Laure/Mikael:
For most 10-year olds, it’s not an either/or situation (even if it is for many trans kids) and no matter what the identity is, it might be years before the parents will even permit them to go in any direction away from the mainstream. Mostly, I left the film with a profound sadness thinking about what the main character will go through when puberty starts next year. Not that it’s a carefree summer by a long shot but, basically, it’s all going to go downhill from here.
Melissa Anderson, Village Voice: “Tomboy astutely explores the freedom, however brief, of being untethered to the highly rule-bound world of gender codes.”
Roger Ebert: “Tomboy is tender and affectionate. It shows us Laure/Mikael in an adventure that may be forgotten in adulthood or may form her adulthood. There is no conscious agenda in view. There is just a tomboy. Not everyone needs to be slammed into a category and locked there.”
Jennie Punter, Globe and Mail: “Tomboy reveals a side of pre-adolescence rarely (if ever) depicted on the big screen, yet it never feels like a curiosity piece, nor is Laure (Zoé Héran), the titular character, portrayed as an outsider from a troubled home.”