This review was originally published as part of our Cannes coverage on 12/05/2018.
“Enjoy puberty while it lasts.”
This well-meaning advice from the titular girl’s father (Arieh Worthalter) is a cruel joke to most teenagers, let alone trans teens. Lara is a 16-year-old trans girl, beginning hormone replacement therapy and working towards sex reassignment surgery: puberty is a living hell.
Her battle with her own body is made more explicit by her desire to train as a ballerina, a discipline that risks exposing her trans identity with every pointe, lift and shower session. Her growing frustration and sense of imposter syndrome as her body refuses to match her identity is understandable.
Lukas Dhont strikes the tone perfectly in his debut film, prioritising Lara’s emotions and perspective at every turn. This is not a sensationalised story, nor is it so wary of causing offence it destroys any drama.
His camera is glued to Lara throughout, and alongside cinematographer Frank van den Eeden, they echo every movement and emotion beautifully. Mostly, like Lara, the camera is cautious and held at a safe distance, ready to be disappointed or attacked at any moment. But when the girls in her class start to ask uncomfortable questions, the movement becomes anxious, restlessly roaming the room.
Dhont opted for genderless casting and decided upon Victor Polster, a cis man. It’s arguable that he should have pushed harder for a trans actor, but what’s not up for debate is Polster’s performance. He is incredible at visualising a million internal struggles, keeping life at arm’s length. It’s as if Lara can’t fully immerse herself in anything because she’s not yet herself. She’s there in mind but not in body.
Watch out for Polster, Worthalter, and especially Dhont. Anyone who can direct a film with such control, sensitivity and confidence on their first attempt has a bright future ahead.
CAST: Victor Polster, Valentijn Dhaenens, Tijmen Govaerts, Nele Hardiman
DIRECTOR: Lukas Dhont
WRITERS: Lukas Dhont, Angelo Tijssens
SYNOPSIS: Determined 15-year-old Lara is committed to becoming a professional ballerina. With the support of her father, she throws herself into this quest for the absolute at a new school. Lara’s adolescent frustrations and impatience are heightened as she realises her body does not bend so easily to the strict discipline.