One of the best received feature film debuts at the Cannes Film Festival was Belgian writer/director Lukas Dhont whose film Girl picked up both Caméra d’Or award, for best first feature film, as well as the Queer Palm. It is the transitioning story of teenage Lala (Victor Polster) who has always dreamed of being a ballerina even when she was a small boy, What is both refreshing and remarkable was for once this was a tale of a young woman dealing with her gender identity who did so in a loving and supportive environment, when the only demons she had to deal with were those of her own.
Lala has just moved to Antwerp into a brand new apartment with her taxi driver single-parent dad (Arieh Worthalter) and her six year old brother (Oliver Bodart) so that she can be close to the prestigious Ballet Academy where she has just been accepted as a pupil. She’s been taking lessons for years, but is told now that she will have to relearn so much as ballerinas are expected to be able to dance on pointe.
There is one awkward moment in the classroom when the teacher asks Lala to close her eyes whilst he asks for a show of hands to see if any of the other girls have any objections to her using the girls changing room. None do, and they are totally accepting of her as just another trainee ballerina. She even gets comfortable showering with them as despite her father’s wishes and her doctors advice, Lala insists on taping her penis up. However one night when all the girls are hanging out together, one of them insists that Lala expose herself now as she has already seen them naked. It is a disturbing scene which greatly distressed her.
Her father accompanied her on every visit to all the doctors who provide her with such excellent support and advice. When an impatient Lala wants her intake of hormones stepped up, she won’t take her father’s refusal, but accepts the doctors decision not to allow this, albeit she accepts it reluctantly.
Her therapist pursues a similar line of questioning as her father enquiring about her sexuality, which Lala is totally undecided about. Her plan had been to wait until she had the sexual realignment surgery in two years time before she made any emotional commitment that coud lead to sexial activity Her counsellor says that is wrong, so she decides to pursue a young man in her building but she discovers that she was not ready for him or anyone else yet.
Even with all the support Lala receives, she still stresses out and her health and loss of weight worry her medical team who decide that she may not be ready for the next steps after all.. She shuts her father out completely and their normally exceptionally close relationship starts to suffer, and eventually Lala shockingly takes matters into her own hands.
Lala is played by Belgian cisgender actor and dancer Victor Polster whos mesmerizing performance has earned him several Best Actor Awards including the Un Certain Regard at Cannes. He is very gifted and the whole movie sits very comfortably on his shoulder. In the continuing dialogue about how transgender people are represented in movies, Polster is an excellent example that the reward should go to the best qualified actor regardless of gender.
This compelling movie is one the lingers in your consciousness for some time after, and deserves to be seen more than once