18 September 2011
Céline Sciamma’s latest film is light-hearted and easy on the senses. It is a linear, quiet depiction of a rather odd little tale about a young girl passing herself as a boy to his new friends at a Paris suburb they have just moved to. Why she resorts to that is never explained (all the better for it), but even before the big reveal, the androgyny of Laure (Zoé Héran) will keep you second-guessing as to her gender (the name is the reveal … and no this is not a spoiler, it happens about 10 minutes in).
Nothing much really happens, as Laure (now called Mikael to ‘his’ new friends) learns to play football like a boy, to fight like a boy and in one hilarious scene moulds herself a penis using play-doh (for the sake of simplicity I will use the feminine third person pronoun throughout). Her breasts still not formed, she can take off her shirt and be one of the boys.
Things get a little more complicated when the 13-year-old Lisa falls for Laure / Mikael. They kiss a couple of times, hold hands and this never feels odd or out of place for Laure / Mikael at all. Obviously, Lisa is unaware of her new friend’s little secret.
This idyllic Summer holiday is about to end, though, as school is about to open. Lisa questions Laure / Mikael why her name doesn’t appear in the school register. Meanwhile, Laure / Mikael’s little sister, Jeanne, finds out about her big sister’s lie. But she buys into the idea of having an older brother. She promises to keep the secret if she can play with everyone else. While playing with another 5-year-old outside, Jeanne brags about how her big brother protected her from bullies where they used to live.
The parents appear in quaint domestic scenes up to this point and when the heavily-pregnant Mother finds out, it suddenly dawns on her how ignorant they have been about their children. This is not a message film, so it’s not trying to make a point about anything. In fact the Mother is absolutely fine about Laure’s decision, she just cannot stomach the lie. As correct as this decision is, it feels like a very one-sided decision by Sciamma. I like that the parents did not punish her for the content of her lie, but for the act of it, for the film’s sake I wish there was a little bit more tension. Perhaps that would have taken the film to a whole new level. It’s clear that Sciamma did not want that. As it is, it is a fine film. But it should have taken some risks along the way.