Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

"Tomboy" Positions Director Celine Sciamma as a Warmer Catherine Breillat

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire November 15, 2011 at 10:33AM

Céline Sciamma's 2007 directorial debut, "Water Lillies," delicately explored the awakening of female urges among a group of feisty teenage girls. Sciamma's follow-up, the similarly heartfelt "Tomboy," moves back in time to unearth the same fundamental experiences of an adolescent. In a phenomenally unguarded performance, Zoé Heran plays shy 10-year-old Laure, whose family moves to a new town in the heat of summer, just in time for her to create a new identity.
1
"Tomboy"
Wolfe "Tomboy"

Céline Sciamma's 2007 directorial debut, "Water Lillies," delicately explored the awakening of female urges among a group of feisty teenage girls. Sciamma's follow-up, the similarly heartfelt "Tomboy," moves back in time to unearth the same fundamental experiences of an adolescent. In a phenomenally unguarded performance, Zoé Heran plays shy 10-year-old Laure, whose family moves to a new town in the heat of summer, just in time for her to create a new identity.

Sporting a trim hairdo and gender-neutral clothing, Laure immediately embodies the title character, and likes it. Introducing herself to new playground friend as "Mikael," Laure becomes comfortably entrenched in her new identity while the inevitability that her secret must come out grows exponentially.

There's not a whole lot beyond the basic premise of "Tomboy," and anyone familiar with the trailer or even the self-explanatory poster can probably get the gist of this light, touching portrait of early sexual awakening. However, Sciamma excels at keeping the movie's bare essentials in place, turning "Tomboy" into a pitch-perfect sketch. Heran's spectacular embodiment of a young girl at odds with the expectations placed on her gender calls to mind transgendered actress Harmony Santana in "Gun Hill Road," released earlier this year. In both cases, the distinct physicality of the actresses create an authentic foundation for everything else on the screen.

The feelings Laure can't yet verbalize register in her distant, searching gaze. Although a small plot detail finds her crushing on affable neighborhood friend (Jeanne Disson) convinced Laure is a boy, "Tomboy" never turns into "Boys Don't Cry" with tykes; instead, as with "Water Lillies," Sciamma conveys a treatise on gender with intimate exchanges, creating the unlikely atmosphere of a warmer Catherine Breillat. Sciamma evades cerebral analysis in favor of gentler truths.

Beyond its specific themes, however, "Tomboy" mainly works as a paean to the final days of childhood innocence. Sciamma evokes Laura/Mikael's subjectivity with smooth tracking shots, usually at her height, reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers. The technique realistically conveys her limited point of view in a world virtually devoid of adults, with the exception of her pregnant mother (Sophie Cattani), who never gets a name. The girl forms an alliance with her six-year-old sister (Malonn Lévana), whose incredulously mature support of Laura's secret provides the movie with its weakest link.

No matter --"Tomboy" adheres to the internal logic of its lead better than the universe beyond her. Occasionally, that restricted perspective drifts close to fantasy; the physical dynamic of Laura/Mikael's burgeoning romance with the girl next door, and the secret driving it, calls to mind the curious relationship in "Let the Right One In," freed from the genre's allegorical boundaries and reduced to the simplest ingredients of emerging desire. Sciamma never delves into the nature of the social taboo of Laura/Mikael's behavior, but shows her commitment to it in a wholly innocent light. By doing that, "Tomboy" ceases to focus on the troubles of a certain age and concludes with the coming of a new one.

criticWIRE grade: A-

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Having landed awards at festivals ranging from Berlin to Frameline and Newfest, "Tomboy" opens in New York on Friday at Film Forum, where it should do strong business driven by strong word of mouth and critical acclaim.

This article is related to: Tomboy, Céline Sciamma, Zoé Héran, Film Forum, Reviews, Catherine Breillat, Let Me In






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More