Sure to be one of 2011's most subtly effective films, Céline Sciamma's second directorial effort, Tomboy (arriving after the well received Water Lilies), is an understated yet powerful gem of a character drama, exploring important issues of adolescent sexuality and identity with apparent skill.
The film follows 10-year-old Laure who moves into a new neighbourhood with her parents and little sister. She meets another girl from the same building who mistakes her for a boy. But instead of correcting her, Laure announces herself as Mikael and proceeds to pretend she's a boy when playing with her newfound friends.
What could have been a horribly mishandled, exploitative film is instead a quietly potent exploration of what it's like to be young and unsure of who you are. Laure (played brilliantly by newcomer Zoé Héran) is treated as a normal girl by her family but looks in the mirror constantly wondering why she doesn't look like other girls. It's both understandable and heart-breaking to see her try to be something she's not, not yet ready to accept her gender because of how she looks.
At a lean 80 minutes, Tomboy uses its time well to hit on pertinent issues and questions that are bound to arise when dealing with this sort of subject. The short runtime is actually quite a relief as these sorts of films can often drag on for far too long, the important stuff often getting lost in the mix. Writer/director Céline Sciamma knows what she's doing and doesn't waste a second getting her points across.
At once low-key yet provocative, understated yet brave, Tomboy manages to communicate to the audience in an extremely effective way without crossing the line into showiness. An impressive second feature from Sciamma, the film deals with issues of acceptance, youth identity and belonging by intelligent means.