Girl review: Lukas Dhont delivers an impressive debut, one that plays in Un Certain Regard in Cannes, but should it have featured in the official line-up, could have been a strong contender for the Palme d’Or.

Girl review by Paul Heath.

Girl review
Girl review

Flemish director Lukas Dhont makes a remarkable feature debut with this prominent work, a film which plays in Un Certain Regard here in Cannes – the sidebar it just took by storm at its first festival screening with its cast and crew present before the jury this past weekend.

Girl centers upon a 15-year transgender girl named Lara, a trainee ballerina with hopes of cracking the big time. She’s at the best dancing school in town, on a scholarship which we find has just been extended at the beginning of the movie. Lara lives at home with her father and younger brother, her mother absent (which isn’t explained), the teenager not only struggling with an important time in her life and her transition, but also that of assuming the ‘mother’ role in the family, something she does with natural and apparent ease. Lara’s focus upon her ballet is unrelenting, the young girl determined to excel despite physical and mental obstacles, and the film follows her on her challenging, turbulent mental and physical struggle.

It’s safe to say that Dhont’s film shook the house, and then brought the it down on its global premiere in Cannes, the film debuting on a hot Saturday morning at the Debussy on the Croisette – the crowd standing for an ovation which was to last the entirety of the credits on its debut, a well-deserved reflection of a phenomenal piece of work.

The intimate character study is engulfing from the start, a debut master-work as beautiful as it is sometimes difficult to watch (particularly during its closing scenes). But rather than focus upon the torment that Lara suffers from her peers – there’s just one scene where she is ridiculed in regards to her gender – the anguish we see comes from the one that is buried deep inside of her, a continuous, impatient anxiousness to complete her transition and overcome those inner, confused emotions and feelings.

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The reason why this film works so well is down to not only the expertly-crafted execution of the narrative, but the flawless performance from its lead actor Victor Polster. This is nothing short of a star-making turn from the young actor, just 15-years-old when the film was shot. His performance is so intense; so glorious and skilfully executed that it will transcend the festival walls and deservedly hand him global attention – yes, it’s that good. He’s supported by a assortment of supporting players – notably Arieh Worthalter as Lara’s father Mathias, a single father with a firm, supportive and sensitive head on his shoulders and a man who only wants the best for his family. The relationship between him and Lara is skilfully examined and accentuated during some truly tender scenes throughout, but one towards the end of the film when the young girl’s desperation peaks, truly stands out as one of the film’s great moments.

The technical aspects of the production are also magnificent. Frank van den Eeden’s camerawork manages to capture the film’s many dance sequences with such divine intimacy – there are constant tight close-ups of Lara’s face and hammering feet, showing her relentless drive to succeed – but there is also the slow, lingering tracking shot during the climax which calmly reflects the film’s most shocking, calculated moment of her despairing story.

The soundtrack, an assortment of continuously building strings supply hope constantly, the score by Valentin Hadjadi simply heavenly.

Make no mistake though, this film belongs to Polster – it is a performance that is sincere, heartfelt, and so very naturally executed. He’s a triumph, a breakout role which will see him go far.

Girl is bound for international glory. It is an intimate, hard-hitting tale that will leave you gasping as the credits roll, but also leaving you full of hope and promise . World cinema at its absolute best.

Girl review by Paul Heath, May 2018.

Girl was reviewed at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.