Belgian director Lukas Dhont’s debut feature, Girl, although a critical success in the festival circuit, hasn’t been without its controversy. On the run up to the film’s release, Dhont has fought to defend his trans coming-of-age film in which critic, Oliver Whitney described as “the most dangerous movie about a trans character in years.”
The debate surrounding the appointment of a cis lead and the film’s focus on the physicality of the protagonist’s transformation has spiked arguments amongst critics and audiences alike. Girl follows Lara (Victor Polster) a trans ballet dancer in her first weeks at a prestigious dance school as well as documenting the beginning of her hormone therapy. The film is inward focusing, bordering on voyeuristic at times as Dhont attempts to shake off the “fitting in” cliché that we see in so many films of the coming-of-age sub-genre, and rather stays focused on Lara and her own personal struggles as she begins her physical transition.
Despite its polarising effect, Girl does have some extremely touching moments, there’s an authenticity to the father-daughter relationship and one can’t deny that Polster’s performance is solid, he’s believable and brings a sensitivity and perseverance to the role. The claustrophobic camera angles following fast-paced Allegro and tear-inducing pointe work perfectly mimics Lara’s fight towards emotional self-acceptance and physical change.
But because so much of the film is preoccupied with the physical, most shockingly – in the final scene, means the substance and potential of something deeper and more profound is lost. With the recent success of A Fantastic Woman (2017), Girl seems to fall a little short and has traded in nuance for shock factor at the final curtain.
As a semi-biographical story, Girl doesn’t tread on all the wrong toes, it does a good job of approaching its subject initially and employs an uplifting, central family dynamic. The film’s inspiration, ballet dancer Nora Monsecour has defended Dhont’s portrayal of her story, despite the recent backlash. Dhont’s debut is a compelling and bold attempt at telling a story some may argue is not his to tell, but any poignant and notable threads of brilliance begin to unravel as the film approaches its final climax leading it further away from the film it could have been. And the question still lingers and divides; who should be telling this story?
Girl is released in UK cinemas on 15th March
Director: Lukas Dhont
Stars: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Tijmen Govaerts