Girl (Lukas Dhont, 2018)
Trans issues are a hot button topic right now — not least because some feminists have an issue with people declaring themselves to be women and sounding in the process as if they have an essentialist view of women closer to the conservative side of the debate. A programme such as Woman’s Hour can have a presenter claiming that sportswomen will no longer succeed as suddenly a lot of male athletes will claim to be women. And a few years back there was a lot of controversy over the (problematic) The Danish Girl, since Eddie Redmayne was a cis actor. Were there any trans actors who could have played the role? Would the film have been funded with one?
Girl is also inspired by a true story and has a cis male playing its central character Lola (Victor Polster). Here the casting required an androgynous actor who could dance. In fact here we have the ghost of Black Swan without (spoilers) that film’s descent into lunacy. At the same time, we have been keyed by the film’s certification card into expecting extreme self harm, and in a deeply uncomfortable sequence we get it.
For most of the film, Lola passes for female, insists she is happy and her father (Arieh Worthalter) is supportive and sympathetic, as is the rest of her extended family, and aside from one nerve racking scene, her ballet tutors do not allude to her gender. (Where is the mother in all this? The film does not mention her as far as I can recall.) Mostly her peers seem unbothered, although there is a bullying sequence when they demand to see hers as she’s seen theirs. We have already seen it, which I felt was a misstep. The medical and psychological teams are cautious because of the stresses on her body, rather than because they doubt her sincerity. (We are told that there has been a struggle to get this far, but now the only barrier to medical procedures is Lola herself.)
One of debut director Dhont’s previous short films, “Headlong” in Boys on Film X was also about a dancer, so he is used to filming such physical sequences, handheld, tinged blue, relentlessly intimate, sometimes mediated by mirrors. The tutors are mostly heard and not seen. In the domestic scenes, the colour palette is yellow or orange, subjecting Lola to a male gaze, focusing on body parts rather than the whole. It teeters on the edge of prurient.
The ending is a little botched, leaving more questions than answers, but as a cis man I felt less troubled than its explorations of the theme than earlier attempts at this.