Already a hit at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Girl tackles the complex topic of gender transition with the utmost delicacy, providing an engaging and sometimes heartbreaking look into the world of transgender youth.
The audience is first introduced to pretty, blonde teenager Lara, who, after being woken by her younger brother, proceeds to complete her morning stretching routine. You can immediately tell she is some sort of dancer or acrobat as she places herself in positions most of us wouldn’t dare try. We soon learn that she has a passion for ballet and is good enough to earn a spot in one of the top dance schools in the country. It also becomes clear that Lara (surprisingly) was actually born a male, and is in the process of physically transitioning to a female body.
Lara is surrounded by supportive people such as her father, therapist, doctor and even her high school friends, and is also on the path to having surgery while taking medication to delay male puberty. It appears as though, for a situation that isn’t truly ideal for anyone, Lara is in a relatively good position. Realistically, though, nothing is perfect, and we witness this through moments of ignorant discrimination towards the film’s protagonist, appalling moments of bullying by her peers, and her dramatic impatience with the slow transition process. Adolescence is hard enough, but when you throw in believing that your outside doesn’t match your inside, it takes on a whole new level of both physical and emotional challenges.
Director and co-screenwriter, Lukas Dhont, has created a film that really feels like a documentary. By avoiding Hollywood clichés (and let’s be honest, b******t) in the script, screenplay, cinematography and direction, Girl feels much more like an educational journey via the life of a teenager who is going through the very realistic process of transitioning.
Lara’s journey is effectively depicted through the frequent use of close-up shots, specifically focussed on Lara’s face and body. These range from a close focus on her elegantly whisking around the ballet studio, to her more private moments of both physical and emotional pain. Lara isn’t an open book and she often isn’t honest about her reality with those who ask, but, through the choice of cinematography, the audience witnesses every angle of her happiness, pain, love and frustration, leaving nothing hidden.
Victor Polster (who is jaw-droppingly only 15) effortlessly portrays the gentle but frustrated Lara, reinforcing the film’s documentary-like feel. His performance is even more remarkable due to the fact that Polster himself is cisgender (someone who identifies with the gender they were born, the opposite of transgender). Working with Dhont’s close up shots to express Lara’s unique journey, Polster brilliantly captures Lara’s struggle in mere glances, twitches, expressions and movements that bring the necessary depth to the protagonist this film needed to be as powerful as it is.
Following in a similar vein of the Academy award-winning Spanish film, A Fantastic Woman, Girl beautifully captures the unique journey of a transgender youth who, like any of us, just wants to truly be herself.
Girl screens again on 20th October.
Check out the full Adelaide Film Festival program here.