A sense of fleeting time hangs over the entirety of Tomboy, Céline Sciamma’s 2011 film about one summer in the life of Laure (Zoé Heran), a 10-year-old who moves into a new home with her family. An androgynous counterpoint to younger sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) and her feminine curls, Laure sports a cropped, tousled hairdo and wears boyish clothes. When she meets the group of neighborhood kids for the first time, she casually informs them her name is Mikael and she’s welcomed in as just another boy.
The charade is inevitably time-constrained — one of Laure’s friends wonders why there’s no Mikael on the school roster for the upcoming year — and it’s clear she’ll only be able to keep it up for so long. The film captures the ephemerality of the situation and of childhood itself with remarkable grace. Scenes of the kids wrestling on a dock or rushing through a field in a water fight distill the essence of childhood bliss, and we see it too in Laure’s relationship with Lisa (Jeanne Disson), who develops a significant crush on Mikael.
Tomboy doesn’t deviate much from its schematic, somewhat generic narrative path, but Sciamma cultivates a tangible sense of naturalism in both the settings and the characterizations that elevates the film greatly. Tender, revealing moments are shared between Laure and a number of other characters, both inside and outside her family. The central budding romance between her and Lisa is sweet — a great scene sees Laure’s initial reluctance melt away in a dance party at Lisa’s house — but perhaps even more affecting is the interaction between Laure and six-year-old Jeanne, who is puzzled by the deception when she discovers it, but supports her sister nonetheless.
The whole affair hinges on the lead performance, and Heran is pretty stunning in a complex role that requires her to be both incredibly vulnerable and impossibly guarded all at the same time. There’s a total lack of self-consciousness in her performance, and it’s easy to imagine much of the film not really working without her anchoring presence.
The Tomboy DVD comes equipped with a behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with Sciamma on the writing process and production, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer. Also included are a number of other trailers for additional Wolfe Video releases.