If the audience erupting into applause and cheers at the end of the premiere earlier today is any indication of the success and impact of this film, one can only say that Girl swept us away. The stunning and tender story of Lara (Victor Polster), a transgender teen with dreams of becoming a ballerina, is a delicate and moving insight into the struggles, embarrassment and pain of coming of age in a body that is foreign to oneself, and of navigating a world still unaccustomed to the protagonist’s particular struggles. The touching narrative is strikingly effective, making a poignant expression that stays with us even after the credits roll.
Making his feature film debut in the Un Certain Regard selection of this year’s Cannes, Flemish director Lukas Dhont is clearly a talent to watch. Co-authoring the script alongside Angelo Tijssens, Dhont encapsulates the common pain of female adolescence with the nuanced particularities of undergoing gender reassignment therapy. This incredibly careful and insightful script is the perfect vehicle for actors to thrive. It’s able to pick up on the quiet yet profound instances of discrimination and humiliation the transgender community faces on a daily basis. When Lara’s teacher asks her to close her eyes so the other girls can vote on whether they’re comfortable with her using the same changing room, or when Lara’s friends pressure her into showing them her genitals at a sleepover, the filmmaker exhibits a clear understanding of the seemingly innocuous moments that play into an oppressive “otherness” constantly reinforced by society.
Arieh Worthalter delivers a heartbreaking performance as the supportive parent doing his best to wade through uncharted territory. A single father of two, he tries with all his might to understand and sympathise with his daughter but, coping with the shame she feels for her physical body, she obscures herself from him. He exemplifies the anguish of a parent whose only wish is for his child to be happy, yet he’s helpless as he watches her day by day further withdraw. There aren’t words to adequately describe the tour de force performance the relatively green actor Victor Polster delivers as Lara. He plays the young ballerina with an incredible subtlety, so one doesn’t need words to understand what she feels, her face says it all. Polster allows himself to simply be a mirror into the character’s suffering and it’s breathtaking.
Girl is remarkable for the fact that Dhont takes a very unique experience and universalises it. All Lara wants is to be a normal girl, to fit in and be accepted by her peers for what she feels she is inside. To tell a story that makes viewers not only empathise with life experiences outside of their own but to do it with grace and compassion is the highest form of beauty.
Girl does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Girl here: