For the MUBIVIEWS debut film we wanted to challenge our writers by discussing the sensitive topic of gender exploration, which is so rarely seen from a child’s point-of-view. The film in question is French social realist drama TOMBOY (Céline Sciamma 2011) about a ten-year-old tomboy who passes as a boy to her friends throughout the course of the summer. The unfamiliar setting for the protagonist Laure (Zoé Héran) allows her to safely experiment with her gender through her persona Mickäel. The film tackles isolation, identity and friendship in a tone which MUBI itself describes as ‘delicate and insightful’ highlighting the innocence behind the film.
A standout moment of TOMBOY (Céline Sciamma 2011) involves Laure (Zoé Héran) altering a red one-piece bathing suit to go swimming with new friends and pass as a boy. When she tries on her makeshift briefs, she realises that her body will not look like the other boys’. Her resourceful solution to use PlayDoh to create a packer (an item worn in one’s underwear to create the illusion of a penis) highlights her childish innocence - using a child’s toy designed for fun and creativity - but also her self-awareness.
While it is suggested throughout the film that gender fluidity is merely a phase of childhood, the decision to later store away the packer suggests otherwise. Laure places it in a box with her baby teeth for safekeeping, as if it is precious and needs protecting, suggesting that she may use it again. The loss of her baby teeth connotes the beginning of a loss of her innocence and a childish androgyny as she begins to grow into an adult body. The packer is a tangible symbol of her persona as a boy which she keeps hidden from her family in order to keep her experimentation a secret.
When she learns of her apparent lies, Laure’s mother (Sophie Cattani) forces her to wear a blue frilly dress and visit the other children to apologise for lying. This acts as a metaphorical confinement of her gender; everyone around her is forced to see her as female and understand that she was passing as a gender which she does not know if she belongs to or not any more. There is a quiet power in her later removing the dress in an act of defiance against the expectations put upon her. It is a rejection of gender norms rarely displayed in child characters yet is representative of many children exploring and learning about their own identities.
Every day this week a different writer will provide their perspective on our MUBIVIEWS film and each post will be open to comments from our readers. Watch TOMBOY on mubi.com until 3 April 2017 and join the discussion!
One MUBI film, five perspectives, endless possibilities.