Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Lukas Dhont’s Girl in Cannes Un Certain Regard:  "The jury appreciated “its bold integrity in tackling gender issues …”
"Directed with admirable understatement and restraint." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

The trials, tribulations and deprivations of a teenage girl who wants to be a ballerina find eloquent and anguished expression in this stunning first film by Belgian director Lukas Dhont.

As the youngster, who is undergoing hormone therapy to enable a change of gender, Victor Polster, who is only 15 and a student at Ballet Vlaanderen, gives an incredible, sensitive and physical performance.

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The director, who considered both girls and boys for the part, spares none of the details concerning the pain of learning to dance, made even more acute in the circumstances of someone who is transitioning at such vulnerable age.

Lara has two obsessive goals - to be recognised as a girl and to succeed in her chosen craft. Her father (Arieh Worthalter) provides comfort and acceptance, as do the team who are helping her through the procedures. Lara feels she is already a girl and as her psychiatrist puts it: “The only thing we can do is to confirm and support that.”

The film does not duck the awkwardness of the situation. Lara has to tuck in her male tackle using tape to be able to don her leotard and take part in the gruelling exercises.

Although she arrives fully dressed for classes the other girls appear to know about the treatment she is undergoing. She uses discreetly the female changing rooms but makes excuses for not using the showers.

She doesn’t have much time for any other activities although she makes a pass at a guy in the same apartment block, possibly as a way of testing her burgeoning girlhood.

Based on a real case that caught Dhont’s attention, the film reveals the dilemmas and repercussions of being born with body that clashes with your sense of who you are - and the journey to put that right. The film is directed with admirable understatement and restraint, saving its dramatic power until towards the end.

It stands out as one of the most unforgettable offerings in this year’s Cannes official selection so far and has resonances of both the Oscar winning A Fantastic Woman as well as Tomboy. In the awards round the film won the Camera D’Or prize for best début feature, the UCR best actor award for Victor Polster and the FIPRESCI award from the international critics.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2018
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A teenage trans girl dreams of becoming a ballerina.
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Director: Lukas Dhont

Writer: Lukas Dhont, Angelo Tijssens

Starring: Nele Hardiman, Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter

Year: 2018

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Belgium

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If you like this, try:

A Fantastic Woman
Just Charlie