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Céline Sciamma talks 'Tomboy'

A film about identity during adolescence

Written by
Time Out Barcelona Editors
Hilary Swank was 25 when she made 'Boys Don't Cry'. It was something else. 'Tomboy' is also about a girl who pretends to be a boy. The difference is that this girl still hasn't gone through puberty. But there aren't many films about this subject, so when I talk with Céline Sciamma, the young director of 'Tomboy', I can't help but ask about it.

Had you been thinking about Kimberley Peirce's film?
The truth is I've seen it a bunch of times, and I love it. Although that involves a much more sexualised character. Here we're talking about a girl who is in elementary school and still doesn't really know who she is. Either way, I have to say - and now I might surprise you - I owe a lot to American cinema.

Because of 'Boys Don't Cry'?
And other films that are funny too, like 'Victor Victoria' and 'Tootsie'. And also because of gangster films - I wanted to create that kind of a feeling of suspense.

The last thing you'd shot before 'Tomboy' was a short entitled 'Pauline'.
It was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Sport, as part of a project called 'Five films against homophobia'. It had a bit more of a propaganda tone, but I still love how it turned out. And it was curious that after that, 'Tomboy' won the Berlinale Teddy Award, which is the prize that the LGBT community gives out.

And the story of 'Tomboy', does it have anything to do with your own?
When I was little it was fashionable among girls to wear our hair cut very short, and I was often mistaken for a boy. But no, it's not my story. My first film, 'Water Lilies', was more autobiographical. At least it was filmed in my hometown.

Some say that film wouldn't have been made without the help of Xavier Beauvois. Is there any truth to that?
In a way, yes, but it's not like I'm his disciple, as some have written. 'Water Lilies' was the first script I wrote in my life, and I presented it as a final work in La Fémis, the film school in Paris. He was chairman of the evaluation panel, and begged me to make it into a film. Since then, I've never seen Xavier again.

'Tomboy' was made very quickly.
I didn't even have time to call one of those wild castings they have whenever someone wants to work with children. Like Laurent Cantet with 'Foxfire'. I just went to an acting agency looking for a prepubescent girl who hadn't yet developed and who could pass as a boy.

And they introduced you to to Zoé Héran.
Yes. She had very long hair, and we had to cut it, but her body was incredible, so bony. We got along well. I told her we needed more kids, and she brought her friends along, and they're the other actors.

That could have worked against you. Why did you make the film in such a short time?
It is an ethical issue, and I share it with many people. It's not like we're announcing another Nouvelle Vague, but in these times, cinema has to be efficient, more 'low cost'. I really identify with film-makers like Bertrand Bonello.

He made 'Tiresia', a film in which the main character was a transsexual.
I was thinking more in a political, almost ideological sense, of how cinema has to be. But it is true that we work with actors in a similar way. Between that and 'House of Tolerance'...

He worked with adult women; you, with children.
It's not so different. They're children, and you have to keep that in mind. That's why I shot these scenes that are so improvised, like the water fight, the football game, and the fight in the lake. But once you have trust, you should forget their age and treat them on equal terms.
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