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Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy is a beautifully crafted story of a ten year old’s exploration of gender and identity. Laure (Zoe Heran)’s family has moved house over the summer. Her parents are beginning to treat her as a young adult, and she often sits her younger sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) to give her pregnant mother a rest. She’s just made a bunch of new friends, and together they play soccer and swim in the lake. The only complication is that to her new gang, Laure has introduced herself as a boy – Mikael.

Laure’s tomboyish nature is nurtured by her parents (Sophie Cattani and Mattieu Demy) who are oblivious to her double life and just how important it is to her. As Mikael, she’s able to shed her social inhibitions and become comfortable in her own skin. She can be what she has always wanted – “one of the boys”. Mikael even attracts the affections of Lisa (Jeanne Disson), who helps initiate him into the group. As the summer continues, however, it becomes apparent that Laure’s secret will be revealed sooner or later.

Tomboy is about transformation between gender, and also the transition from child to young adult. Laure cares deeply about her little sister Jeanne, and indulges her games of make-believe as a way to preserve her own childhood. Through the crisp, light-filled shots of a whimsical summer, we get the lingering sense that this will be the last summer break Laure spends as a carefree child.

The sensitive subject matter of Tomboy could have easily rendered it a shallow, poorly-executed film. Yet Sciamma works together with the cast to deliver a subtle, deeply touching cinematic experience. Heran’s portrayal of a complex and introspective character is honest and natural – a notable achievement for her first role in a feature film. Lévana too is exceptional in her performance as Jeanne. With her contagious laughter she effortlessly pulls us all into the world of imagination and magic that defines childhood.

Tomboy is a delicate, heart-warming tale of the bittersweet experiences young people encounter when they experiment with gender. In a society where misconceptions about transgender identity are abundant, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a film that deals with the subject of ‘gender-bending’ whilst remaining playful and humorous. This subversive gem is sure to please audiences at future festivals around the world.

Tomboy will screen at 8.15pm on Tue 20th March at ACMI Cinemas as part of the 22nd Melbourne Queer Festival. To buy tickets please visit www.mqff.com.au

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