This achingly beautiful drama about a teenager who is transitioning gender while training to be a ballerina was one of Cannes 2018’s most talked about films, deservedly winning the Camera d’Or for first-time director Lukas Dhont, and the Un Certain Regard acting award for its standout central performance from Victor Polster.
While Lara already identifies as a girl, her world is undergoing significant and much desired transformation. She has just moved with her father and beloved kid brother to a new city where she has been provisionally accepted into a prestigious dance school and she will soon be old enough to start hormone replacement therapy. Lara’s aspiration to femininity is so great that she has chosen the most extreme physical form of its expression. But here, dance is not a release. Held captive by her body, she tapes her genitals and hides the bloodied feet which have not grown up en pointe like the other girls. While her father offers her nothing but support, she is all teenage uncertainty and impatience and her interior world moves closer to self-destruction even as her outer beauty blooms.
Dhont and co-writer Angelo Tijssens keep the screenplay stripped bare of external conflict and prejudice, the camera movement and performance revealing the tumult beneath Lara’s steely poise. And while the casting of Polster, who identifies cis gender, will be the subject of debate at a time when awareness of transgender actors is improving, there can be no argument that this is a deeply intuitive performance, rendering the truth of Lara’s battle with indelible grace. — Clare Stewart