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Summertime to a child seems infinite, an endless opportunity of complete freedom after the restrictions of school. The 10-year-old at the center of this lovely French film is doubly liberated, as part of a family that has just moved to a new neighborhood outside of Paris.

Only the title gives away that this child, androgynous in a way that children of this age often are, is a girl. Laure (Zoé Héran) is skinny, perhaps undergoing a growth spurt. She wears her hair cropped short, perhaps to avoid the problems her curly-headed six-year-old sister must go through. She is exploring her new neighborhood one day when she meets Lisa (Jeanne Disson), a neighbor girl of her own age. Taking her for a boy, Lisa asks Laure “his” name, and after hesitating she answers “Michael.”

Thus starts Laure’s summer as a boy. She keeps the ruse up as Lisa introduces her to the other neighborhood children, who are enjoying their summer free of adult supervision, and finds that it’s not too hard to do. She’s a good soccer player, and if the boys take off their shirts to play, she can get away with that. When the kids go swimming, she trims her one-piece suit and makes sure what’s left seems appropriately filled out.

Doesn’t she know that she won’t be able to get away with this once school starts? Perhaps; maybe she just puts it out of her mind. We know, and because we’ve seen films like Boys Don’t Cry we worry about what’s in store for her. But Tomboy isn’t that kind of movie. Writer-director Céline Sciamma has fashioned a world that is gentle and loving, in which her young heroine can indulge in some self-exploration. Although the film has won numerous awards at gay and lesbian film festivals, it isn’t necessarily a story of a budding lesbian or a transgendered child. Laure is a girl enjoying a time when she can make choices that won’t be available to her in the future, at least not so easily. And who doesn’t wish for that?

Tomboy will be screened at 7pm on Thursday, March 22, at the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center as part of the International Women’s Film Festival.

Watch the trailer for Tomboy

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