- Review by Alison Traynor
It was with trepidation that I entered the screening of Belgian director Lukas Dhont’s debut feature, Girl. The film is inspired by the trans dancer Nora Monsecour, who is represented through the character of Lara (Victor Polster), a teenager who is pursuing her dreams of becoming a ballerina while experiencing gender dysphoria. Although Girl was a hit amongst many cisgender critics, I had my concerns. I was aware that it had garnered quite a lot of criticism from trans writers, which led me to watch the film in a state of hyper-awareness, carefully watching out for potential issues that may arise. Many argued that the film was obsessed with trans bodies to the point where it became disturbing and voyeuristic, and Matthew Rodriguez even described as “trans trauma porn”.
Watching the film, I could certainly see the point of these writers. I would have accepted, and even welcomed, a certain amount of focus upon Lara’s body. In fact, I think it is hugely important that different types of bodies that do not adhere to glossy Hollywood stereotypes appear on screen. However, the frequent, lingering shots on Lara’s genitalia seemed excessive. These shots were not a vehicle to gain insight into Lara’s personality or experiences. Unfortunately, they seemed to turn the trans body into a novelty to be stared at and objectified by the viewer.
Particular parts of the film made very uncomfortable viewing. Its depiction of self-harm was graphic, but my main issue with its inclusion was not its explicitness but the problematic ideas that it perpetuated. The aftermath of this self-harm appeared to imply that a trans person’s problems would all vanish once their body matched their gender identity. In this way, Dhont completely overlooked the complexity of human experience and the nuances of gender identity.
It is perhaps unfair to say that the film solely aligns being female to having certain genitalia. Indeed, apparently inherent features of femininity include twerking, giggling about boys, shrieking over clothes and being catty to each other. The general concept of femininity in the film conforms to unfortunate stereotypes, and presents quite an insulting portrayal of teenage girls as a vacuous homogeneous mass.
Despite all of these negative elements, there are still some aspects of the film that should be praised. Lara’s portrayal certainly had the power to produce a sincere empathy, and she was played adeptly and sympathetically by Polster. This is particularly impressive considering her overly simplistic characterisation. In terms of the writing, she is a flat character, whose only real traits seem to be that she is trans girl, and that she enjoys dancing. Impressively, Polster managed to elevate her character to the point where she seemed both realistic and fascinating. Likewise, Arieh Worthalter does an excellent job playing Lara’s father, Mathias, and the rapport the two actors have is wonderful, which makes them a very touching father-daughter duo.