Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Movie with Abe: Girl

Directed by Lukas Dhont
To be released January 18, 2019

As society evolves and more liberal interpretations of identity become normalized, those who might previously have been underrepresented in fiction are increasingly more visible. Same-sex relationships have been spotlighted for many years, and now an increased focus on transgender protagonists is finding its way into cinema. “A Fantastic Woman,” a Chilean drama starring transgender actress Daniela Vega, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film last year, and now, one of this year’s Golden Globe nominees in the same category, from Belgium, tackles another story featuring a transgender character.

Lara (Victor Polster) is a fifteen-year-old who dreams of being a ballerina. Her supportive father Mathias (Arieh Worthalter) accompanies her to each of her appointments with doctors to track the progress of her hormone therapy, while instructors at her ballet school stress the difficulty of starting to dance so late, especially when she grew up learning to use the feet of a boy. Lara struggles to feel like she fits in with the other girls, pushing herself to excel as a way to compensate for the physical and emotional challenges that present themselves all too frequently as a result of the transition she is actively undergoing.

This film has been the subject of controversy in part because it comes from Lukas Dhont, a cisgender male director, and stars Polster, a cisgender male actor. Whether they are entitled to tell a story that doesn’t inherently belong to them is a larger ethical artistic question, but what is clearly problematic is the way in which Lara’s mental state is portrayed. Her single parent is incredibly devoted and encouraging, and though she does experience harassment and trauma at certain points, most of what she suffers is self-inflicted. That as a result paints as destructive and damaging not the world but instead those who seek to truly express themselves, which is a disturbing message to send to its audience.

Polster, who was just fourteen years old at the time of filming, does deliver a performance that feels true to the character of Lara, even if the sculpting of her identity as portrayed in the film is laced with issues. The emphasis on dance does not reach outside of its central character as it has in other films like “Black Swan,” and instead the narrative is presented in an uninventive and straightforward manner. This film doesn’t ultimately make the proper case for its existence, with its potential for adverse consequences outweighing its positive elements.


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