Film review by Anna Smith
What begins as a sensitive portrait of a trans girl becomes more troubling in this Belgian drama. Having been born a boy, teenaged Lara (Victor Polster) is preparing for the procedure that she’s been dreaming of. She has also enrolled in an elite ballet school in a new town, moving home with her father and six-year-old brother. The potential stresses are evident, but Lara approaches everything with a beatific smile on her face – initially, at least.
Despite his controversial casting (he’s a cis male), dancer Polster convinces in his acting debut. But the internalised nature of the character presents a challenge; there are perhaps too many scenes where Lara grins and bears it. With his first feature, Lukas Dhont invites empathy by exposing the challenges Lara must face, from the obvious to the subtle. At one point, a teacher asks Lara to close her eyes in class, asking anyone to raise their hand if they have a problem sharing a bathroom with her.
The dance scenes are credible but numerous, and given that the other girls are sketchy characters, these are less involving than those at home, where Lara’s relationship with her caring, tolerant dad really resonates. And yet a problematic finale has caused understandable controversy among the trans community, despite being defended by dancer Nora Monsecour, on whom the earlier part of the story is based. ‘Girl’ spends much of the time gracefully en pointe but stumbles with its last tricky move.
‘Girl’ opens Mar 15 in cinemas and via Curzon Home Cinema