Dancing Girl (Film Review: “Girl”)


An intense portrait of a transgender teen in Belgium whose only wish is to be a ballerina. . .  based on a true story.

SnapShot Plot

The Belgian film, Girl is the story of Lara, a 15-year old transgender dancing student living with her single Dad and little brother while undergoing hormone treatments in preparation for a gender reassignment surgery in two years. Lara is luckier than most in her situation. Her father is kind and supportive, she’s being treated by a caring team of doctors and counselors, and she’s been accepted on a trial basis to the most prestigious ballet academy in the country. Yet she struggles with the long process of male puberty inhibitors and the female hormones she must take diligently to ensure her body is ready for the irreversible surgery in her future. On top of all that, her decision to pursue classical ballet years later than most girls have begun their pointe training puts Lara at a distinct disadvantage. Between the rigors of dancing and the emotional turbulence raging within, Lara finds herself unraveling, spiraling out into dangerous territory where even the most supportive family couldn’t have a clue as to what she may be capable of.



Parting Shot

Co-written by Lukas Dhont, who directed his debut film with an almost documentarian approach to its subject, Girl may not be for everyone, especially because of the graphic depiction of Lara’s physical journey and her palpable disgust and embarrassment over her masculine body. Its theme of gender dysphoria (and the emotional maelstrom surrounding it) is handled with a frankness and openness that, to some, may feel voyeuristic. Saving it from that label is the movie’s patient, respectful admiration for Lara’s strength and commitment, as well as the astonishing breakout performance by Víctor Polster as Lara.

The casting call for the part of Lara was a genderless one, an invitation to boys, girls, trans-youth, anyone who wanted to audition. 500 teens tried out but no one could both act and dance at the level required for such a project. So Dhont and his team took a break from casting the lead and began assembling the many dancers needed for the film. There they found a complete unknown, Víctor Polster, a dancer with the exact looks required, whose substantial talents included a depth of expression which extended beyond the dance floor. They had struck gold.

Audience and critical reaction to Girl has been so strong in its home country that it was Belgium’s official submission for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category of the 91st Academy Awards in 2019. It also did well at the Cannes Film Festival, where the professional transgender dancer Nora Monsecour (on whose life the movie was based) made an appearance.

Although the ending may feel quite abrupt – as well as shocking – it’s the arc of Lara’s journey that I found so moving and immersive in Girl. If ever there was a face upon whose canvas every possible emotion can be registered, it’s that of Víctor Polster. Whatever your attitudes may be on the plight of people born with gender dysphoria, in the end the message is simple. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Girl is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kdzu26tnUTc

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