“I don’t want to be an example. I just want to be a girl,” says Lara (Victor Polster), the title character of Girl, Lukas Dhont’s highly acclaimed debut feature about a teenage transgender ballerina. Given the Belgian director’s attempts to sidestep glib representation and focus on the exigencies of Lara’s situation — namely, the specifics of her ongoing hormone therapy and the demands of her education at the Royal Ballet School Antwerp — the statement might well be the driving force of the film itself. Indeed, unlike Sebastian Leilo’s misguided A Fantastic Woman from last year — a simplistic film that put its title character through a series of punishing indignities — Girl maintains a distinctive physical intensity, which is no small feat, given the familiarity of adolescent coming-of-age stories.
Doctor’s visits and therapist sessions alternate with rapidly cut ballet sequences, breathless whirls of pliés, posés and arabesques. Although Lara does experience minor slights throughout the runtime, she is, for the most part, ably supported by a network of family and medical professionals; the film’s conflict thus remains largely internal. It’s a shame, then, that Dhont feels the need to up the ante by playing the same dispiritingly rote narrative beats that plague the international arthouse scene. And in doing so, he ultimately transforms Girl into yet another example of what he seemed to be so promisingly attempting to avoid.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 1.