Change is in the air, and that’s not a comment on climate change. There appears to be a greater tolerance towards our differences in society, which can only be a good thing.
More and more are voicing their opinion for change: not only in a change in themselves on a physical/emotional level, but also in the way those around them react to their change.
This Belgian film focuses on the physical transition of one youngster, from boy to girl, and all the emotional fallout from it.
For Lara (Victor Polster), dance is her life. So you can imagine how thrilled she is when she gets accepted to a renowned dance academy. It won’t be easy however, as learning ballet is no easy gig; it takes endless hours of practice and discipline, and even after all that, there are no guarantees at the end of it. Quite a lot for any 15-year-old to take in.
Lara’s situation is a little more complicated however, by the fact that she is also in the process of undergoing the medical transition from a boy to a girl.
It is a time in any teenager’s life when they just want to be accepted, so Lara soon finds herself swamped by the physical abuse her body is put through – both by her dance training and medication – and the mental anguish of being highlighted as someone different from the curious crowd she now finds herself in.
This fascinating debut by Belgian director Lukas Dhont is made that little bit more remarkable by a stand out performance from its lead; Victor Polster is utterly beguiling as Lara. Throughout the film he makes you feel that, despite her sexual organs, young Lara is all female. There’s also a real raw sense that Lara is taken on far too much at such a young age. Not only does he have to manage the physical and emotional changes she’s going through, she also has to cope with the stress of a highly demanding education, which finds her having to bind her private parts up every time she dances, as a way of appearing more feminine.
And it’s here that Dhont does his best work, conveying the physicality of such a change. Sadly it feels lacking on the emotional side. Lara’s character is borderline mute throughout, so we never hear her voice her struggle. She’s given plenty of opportunities, and although it’s understandable that it isn’t necessarily something that she would want to discuss with her father, she’s given plenty of opportunities to air her feelings with a counsellor and friends. The fact that we don’t hear what she’s going through seems not only like a missed opportunity, but to a certain extent, is also letting down all those going through similar situations in real life.
The film could certainly have done without so much dancing. Audiences are pretty good at understanding how difficult and painful dancing ballet can be, therefore don’t need to have what feels like every other scene featuring Lara on her toes in the dance studio. To that end, the film would have benefitted from less plie and a bit more parlez.
That’s taking nothing away from a brave and absorbing virtuoso performance, Polster’s big screen debut no less, that takes centre stage and totally deserves an ovation or two all of its own.