Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont’s first feature film Girl won the Camera D’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
It’s a masterfully intense study of a trans teenagers struggle to succeed at ballet school and live an authentic life in line with her gender identity.
In French and Flemish the film tells the story of 15 year old Tara (Victor Polster) who lives with her father Mathias (Arieh Worthalter) and younger brother Milo (Oliver Bodart).
The emotional and literal focus is on Tara’s daily life. She is in almost every shot, often in close up, and the audience follows her every move.
Taxi driver dad Mathias and her wider family support Tara’s career ambitions and her intention to transition to live her life as a woman.
For the most part Mathias is the understanding and positive rock in the emotional turmoil of Tara’s life.
A talented dancer already, but with limited ballet training, the film follows Tara’s trial period at a top ballet school.
The family move house to be closer to the school.
We follow Tara’s progress at a gender clinic, where she has already been prescribed puberty-blocking hormones.
This occurs alongside exhausting and painful training she needs to catch up with the other dance students.
At home she balances caring for younger brother Milo with the rigours of exercise and training and increasing pressures to make the grade. At times it can seem that she has everything going for her as a young trans person.
As she turns 16 she’s at last prescribed the hormones she needs.
At the same time she becomes increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of bodily changes and having to deal with transphobia.
This may appear minor to begin with, such as Milo using her old male name. But even this non-malicious ‘dead naming’ can be demoralising for a trans person.
More serious is a scene when a teacher asks her class if they’re comfortable sharing a changing room with Tara—despite her being present in the class.
She’s asked to close her eyes while students vote on the issue so she can’t see who may be opposed.
Tara faces growing pressure from classmates about why she avoids showering or changing in front of others.
She’s bullied into showing her body, leaving her humiliated and emotionally violated.
I don’t want to spoil the film’s climax by giving away too much, but the pressures lead her to take shockingly drastic action to try and resolve her situation.
Dhont has described Girl as a film that challenges how we think and understand, a film about choice and determination. It’s certainly all that, and more.