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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
What it takes to be a woman is a question at the heart of the Belgian film Girl by Lukas Dhont. This coming-of-age film centers on a sensitive performance by Viktor Polster as Lara, a 15-year-old ballerina-in-training. A new student desperate to pass her probation period at the country’s most prestigious ballet academy, winsome blonde Lara has talent, technique, and the requisite long willowy body. She also has a penis.
With the support of her loving single dad, the guidance of a team of doctors, and the acceptance of classmates, largely blasé about her difference, Lara is undergoing hormone therapy and preparing for the transitional surgery when she is eighteen. With bracing honesty and insight, Girl captures so many aspects of what trans women have experienced: the self-destructive compulsions that make them ill-equipped for surgery, the embarrassment of waking up with an erection, their gradual discovery of what gender they find attractive, their joy of finding acceptance within a community of their peers, etc. While detailing her hormone treatment, a doctor tells Lara, “You are just confirming what you already are.”
On one hand, this is a film about the training and trials of a ballerina, which leads to the sameness of lengthy and repetitious rehearsals and classes, with lines of sweaty dancers en pointe, with shots of bleeding toes and taped ankles.On the other hand, it’s most specifically a film about Lara, a transgender woman, with a carefully presented informational side of medical and psychological detail.
Girl is such an uncompromising and unforgettable beacon of truth that it is destined to shed harsh light on the egregious lack of representation in cinema, thus opening more doors for transgender stories to be told. It is my deep hope that the film will be embraced for what it is, rather than shunned for what it is not. This extraordinary achievement cannot be anything other than a step in the right direction.