French screenwriter and filmmaker Céline Sciamma was behind the 2007 Water Lilies, a film following a pair of teenage girls who explored their sexualities after meeting in the swimming pool locker room. And now with her new movie Tomboy, Sciamma delves again into the idea of gender and sexuality from the point of view of someone too young to know who they are and how that aligns with who everyone else wants them to be. In the case, the character in question has an idea that what they are feeling is not quite “right” and that they could be in trouble for the way they are acting, despite it being the most natural to them.
In Tomboy, this person is Laure, a 10-year-old girl who performs as a boy, introducing herself to neighbor children (including a girl who has a crush on her and with whom she later shares a kiss) as Mikael.
As Mikael, Laure is able to take off her shirt to play shirts-and-skins soccer with fellow boys; able to fight them to defend her sister’s honor. But there is a constant fear of being found out, as Laure has to hide in the woods to urinate away from where she could be seen and constructs a fake play-doh penis to put inside her swimtrunks, which she also makes herself.
What’s never clear about Laure is who Laure thinks she is. Is she transgender? Is she a lesbian? Is she simply a tomboy? We talked with Céline Sciamma via e-mail about the film and what story she wanted to tell with a 10-year-old androgynous girl at its center.
AfterEllen.com: What is it about adolescence that speaks to you as a filmmaker?
AE: Obviously there is a question of if Mikael is trans-identified, a lesbian, etc. but how did you see the character from the beginning?
AE: The relationship Mikael has with Lisa: Do you feel he has feelings for her or is he acting out what he thinks a boy would do in the situation?
AE: The film has played a lot of LGBT film festivals in America. Was that your intent for the film or did you feel like it had better placement in LGBT specific fests vs. other kinds of film festivals? Do you think there is a need for LGBT film festivals?
AE: Do you identify with any of the characters in Tomboy? What about Water Lilies?
In Water Lilies, I identify strongly to Marie, my main character. Even though both films are not my stories, per se, I like to think you should write about what you know, the emotions you felt strongly. Not to tell your own little story, but to find the right distance, away from the cliché, and to be more accurate and generous in fiction.
AE: What lesbian-themed films did you/do you enjoy? Any lesbian directors you find inspiration from?
AE: What will your next project be?
Tomboy opens today in New York and in L.A. on Nov. 25.