Lukas Dhont’s debut feature Girl is not your typical coming-of-age story. In this film, Dhont captures adolescence in a mature and thought-provoking way. Girl‘s protagonist is the 16-year old ballet dancer Lara, who struggles with her transsexuality. Besides the daily pressure of perfecting her dancing technique, Lara is preparing for her full transition. She takes hormones, impatiently waits for her breasts to grow, and is slowly, in Lara’s eyes too slowly, getting ready for her sex reassignment surgery. The film’s narrative centres around these two dominant aspects of Lara’s life which both exacerbate her distress and her impatience. Whether in dance or in her transition, the body seems to be the ultimate obstacle for Lara. Her struggle between body and mind is skilfully expressed by Victor Polster, who won the award of ‘best acting’ in the section ‘Un certain regard’ for the Cannes Film Festival.
What is remarkable about Girl is that the narrative isn’t centred around the trans protagonist’s struggle to fit into her everyday world – instead, the film focuses on the inner struggle.
The film spares you from a familiar trans movie narrative in which the protagonist clashes with society and with their family. It is refreshing to watch a film that does not victimise the transgendered protagonist, but instead empowers and humanises them. Lara’s father and the doctors who assist her in her transition acknowledge and see her as a young woman, yet this does not change Lara’s own convictions about her body and the feelings of imprisonment that she experiences on a daily basis. For her, she will only feel like a real woman once her transition is fully completed. Girl deftly points out to its cisgender audience that they will never truly know, nor fully understand what it means to live with the torment of being born with the wrong body. The film shows that we don’t know what it feels like to be in Lara’s shoes – and that we are in no position to judge the decisions nor debate the rights of trans people.
Girl does have its imperfections. The fact that it centres around a European, middle-class trans individual who has the privilege of access to quality healthcare and professional support, is certainly unrepresentative. It does not exhibit the trans experience on a global scale, but it is enlightening above all and might open doors to other, unheard stories that will bring something entirely new to cinema. Girl refuses to feed into stereotypes and instead offers a refreshing, non-voyeuristic view into one of many unique trans stories and struggles. Exposing mainstream audiences to social issues is one of the most important steps towards eventual societal acceptance. This film is an important stepping stone – one that is helping inspire greater discussion and opens doors for new trans narratives to emerge. I must applaud Lukas Dhont for this exceptional masterpiece.
Kate Shylo is a master student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Fall 2018)