Lala and Gender Identity
Those who were at this year’s (2019) Cannes Festival were given a special treat with the screening of Belgian director Lukas Dhont’s “Girl”. It was a prize winner then and is still today picking up awards. It is the story of Lala (Victor Polster) who since being a mall boy has dreamed of being a ballerina.
We first meet Lala when she has just moved to Antwerp into a brand new apartment with her taxi driver single-parent dad (Arieh Worthalter) and (her six year old brother (Oliver Bodart) so that she can be close to the prestigious Ballet Academy where she has just been accepted as a pupil. She’s been taking lessons for years but is told now that she will have to relearn so much as ballerinas are expected to be able to dance on pointe.
There is one awkward moment in the classroom when the teacher asks Lala to close her eyes whilst he asks for a show of hands to see if any of the other girls have any objections to her using the girls changing room. None do, and they are totally accepting of her as just another trainee ballerina. She even gets comfortable showering with them as despite her father’s wishes and her doctor’s advice, Lala insists on taping her penis up. However one night when all the girls are hanging out together, one of them insists that Lala expose herself now as she has already seen them naked. It is a disturbing scene which upset her greatly.
Her father went with her on every visit to all the doctors who give her excellent support and advice. When an impatient Lala wants her intake of hormones stepped up, she won’t take her father’s refusal, but accepts the doctors decision not to allow this, albeit she does so reluctantly. Her therapist pursues a similar line of questioning as her father enquiring about her sexuality, which Lala is totally undecided about. Her plan had been to wait until she had the sexual realignment surgery in two year’s time before she made any emotional commitment that might lead to sexual activity. Her counsellor thinks she is wrong, so she decides to pursue a young man in her building but she discovers that she was not ready for him or anyone else yet.
Even with all the support she receives, Lala still stresses out and her health and loss of weight worry her medical team who decide that she may not be ready for the next steps after all.. She shuts her father out completely and their normally exceptionally close relationship starts to suffer, and eventually Lala takes matters into her own hands.
Lala is played by Belgian cisgender actor and dancer Victor is a cis gender Belgian male whose performance is mesmerizing. The whole movie sits very comfortably on his shoulders. In the continuing dialogue about how transgender people are represented in movies, Polster is an excellent example that the reward should go to the best qualified actor regardless of gender.
This compelling movie is one you will not quickly forget and you probably watch it multiple times.