CineCity and Duke of York’s Picturehouse provided us with the opportunity to see Lukas Dhont’s ‘Girl’ before its general release on March 15th, 2019. The film is Belgium’s official selection for the Best Foreign Language Film category at next year’s Academy Awards, but does the final product live up to the awards campaign behind it?
Lukas Dhont’s Girl tells the story of Lola, a beautiful 15-year-old girl who was born into a male body, crusading to become a ballerina whilst undergoing therapy to prepare her for SRS. The film that follows is a tragically tender one, peeling back the anxiety-ridden layers of a young girl struggling to belong, even in her own body.
At the centre of Girl is a sensational performance from newcomer Victor Polster, a role in which he deservedly won Best Actor for at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Polster expertly embodies a young woman who feels out of place in this world, delicately portraying her insecurities in scenes that feel shockingly real. The only component rivalling these more understated moments are the scenes in which Polster must deliver the raw determination of a young girl pursuing her wildest dreams, in dance sequences that lock your focus on Lola as she puts herself through the most excruciating pain.
Dhont, in his theatrical directorial debut, cleverly creates a duality between the ballerina storyline and the narrative concerning Lola’s hormonal therapy for upmost emotional effect. You will want to cheer when Lola reaches the highest of highs, but we must also bear the most emotionally crippling weight when she sinks to the lowest of lows. Dhont compliments his direction with an emphasis on yellow and blue colours. The yellow paints an achingly everlasting sunset that is stagnating the dawn of Lola’s new life in a woman’s body, whilst the blue perfectly punctuates the sadness and anxiety holding her back.
Even more intriguing is the underlying subtext of Schrödinger philosophy found within Girl. One such scene that perfectly encapsulates this theme is one in which Lola’s teacher asks her classmates to raise their hands if they are not comfortable with her using the female bathroom, also asking Lola to close her eyes in the process. Dhont chooses to keep the focus on Lola throughout the scene and never cuts to a wide, meaning the viewer never sees the outcome either; none and all the classmates put their hands up. It’s a simple but exquisite device that allows us into the insecurities of Lola’s mind, empathising with her situation even though we can never truly understand it.
Unfortunately, this does also create some narrative shortcomings. The metaphor seemingly extends to the issue of Lola’s male sexual organs at first, for she decides to cover them in tape to suggest to herself that they are not truly there. However, the film chooses to expose Lola’s genitalia too soon, not only undermining the possible greater meaning but also coming off as gratuitous in the face of Polster being underage. The narrative is also hamstrung by a slightly repetitive structure, delivering superfluous scenes that dampen the pacing.
Despite this, Girl remains to be an incredibly effective piece of filmmaking from such a fresh-faced creative team. The subject matter within this film is highly complex and can easily go awry under the wrong hands, but Lukas Dhont absolutely sticks the landing in this tear-inducing piece of cinema. I very much look forward to seeing what these fresh faces deliver us next and I hope you all will seek them out for the first time when Girl officially releases next year.