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Movie review: 'Tomboy'

Filmmaker Céline Sciamma keeps her atmospheric focus squarely on a richly observed, nonjudgmental summer tableau of children in frolic.

November 25, 2011|By Robert Abele
  • Upon moving to a suburban neighborhood, a 10-year-old girl passes herself off as a boy among a new group of friends while hiding her alter ego at home. With Zo Hran, Malonn Lvana and Jeanne Disson. Written and directed by Cline Sciamma. In French with English subtitles. Rocket Releasing
Upon moving to a suburban neighborhood, a 10-year-old girl passes herself… (Rocket Releasing )

Quiet and naturalistic in the best way, the French film "Tomboy" rolls out a tale of malleable pre-adolescent identity with a marked absence of sensationalism.

With possibility in the air after her family moves to a suburban apartment enclave, 10-year-old Laure (Zoé Heran) — a gangly figure with pinched features and short, cowlick-y hair — passes herself off as "Mikael" to the local cluster of boisterous kids, one of whom is a girl (Jeanne Disson) who develops a crush on this strangely vulnerable-looking new boy.

As Laure adapts to her gambit — teaching herself to spit, going shirtless if necessary, working with, ahem, a clay model for swimming shorts' sake, and eventually recruiting her 6-year-old sister (Malonn Lévana) in the deception — an undeniable tension mounts.

But filmmaker Céline Sciamma, following up her ethereal coming-of-age piece "Water Lilies," keeps her atmospheric focus squarely on a richly observed, nonjudgmental summer tableau of children in frolic: amid the lively scenes of tag, soccer, truth-or-dare and king of the hill, there just happens to be a more questioning and privately liberating form of externalized pretending in these kids' orbit.

Anchored by Heran's bravely nuanced turn and the impish cuteness of Lévana — whose giddy joy at briefly inheriting a protective older brother is thoroughly charming — "Tomboy" stands out as an especially affecting delicacy about the thrills and pitfalls of exploring who one is.


"Tomboy." No MPAA rating. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes. At Laemmle's Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; and Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.

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