by Alex Billington May 14, 2018
One of the biggest discoveries and best films of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival is a Belgian dramatic feature titled Girl, from first-time filmmaker Lukas Dhont. I am still stunned by this film, still thinking about it days later. It's always wonderful to see first feature films that have such assured, confident filmmaking, and this is one of those films that is impressive in every way. Girl is about a transgender teenager who dreams of a being a ballerina, and she struggles with the pressures of school and teenager life, along with the intense desire to be perceived and feel like a beautiful woman. It's such an achingly beautiful, emotionally resonant, intelligent, breathtaking film. Perhaps the best transgender film we've seen to date, on a whole other level of excellence above even the Academy Award-winning A Fantastic Woman. One of my favorites of the festival.
From the opening shots, I knew this would be something special. Girl stars Victor Polster as a young teen, formerly known as Victor, now known as Lara. She is undergoing hormonal treatment and waiting for her chance to have surgery, but in the meantime she's dedicated to becoming a ballerina. She is given a chance to join the top dance academy in the country, and the pressure to train and perform along with other young women is incredible intense. But she never shows it, always putting on a smile, remaining quit and reserved. Her father, played by Arieh Worthalter, couldn't be more understanding – supporting her in every way, from taking her to the doctors, to giving her privacy, to working extra hard so she can follow her dreams. It's so refreshing to see, and never something that Dhont questions – it just is this way, as it certainly should be.
Beyond the exceptional performances themselves, Girl is stunning in its depiction of the emotional intensity and great stress that transgender individuals feel. And it's so carefully worked into the details, worked into every scene. The camera follows Lara closely, intimately, letting her speak through her eyes and her body. We can feel the tension, we can feel the stress, we can feel all this pain and desire, and we can sympathize with her. Even though I am not transgender and must admit I really have no idea what the feeling is like, I was overwhelmed by how perfectly the film expresses these feelings, and how much it made me feel closer to and able to understand deeply what she is going through. It's part of what makes it so beautiful, but almost uncomfortable to watch, because you want her to succeed and be happy yet she can't be – it's not that easy.
This is a major debut for Lukas Dhont, showing just how talented and capable he is in every aspect. If this is how great his first film is, he has a bright future ahead. There's a lovely score by Valentin Hadjadj that plays into the emotions and story, along with gorgeous cinematography by Frank van den Eeden. There are so many intimate shots that follow Lara as she dances around the rehearsal rooms. I was constantly astonished by how the camera never appeared in any of the mirrors around the room, and how simply and effortlessly it follows her. Dhont and his cast and crew bring us into this story with a very tender, touching, honest look at the life of a young transgender woman. And we can all learn so much from watching this film, empathy above all, and hopefully it'll have the chance to be seen by many others beyond of the film festival.
Alex's Cannes 2018 Rating: 9.9 out of 10Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing
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