Directed by Lukas Dhont
For all of its frustrations, Netflix has done a lot of good for American audiences. While its selection of classic films is laughably sparse, and its original content sometimes tends to favor quantity over quality, it does sometimes license media that Americans deserve to see (and maybe otherwise wouldn’t get to or think to). Recently, for instance, it exclusively licensed and released “Girl,” the Golden Globe-nominated Belgium/Dutch film by director Lucas Dhont (who is only 27 years old, which makes this 27-year-old feel pretty unaccomplished).
The plot centers around a transgender girl, Lara (Victor Polster), in the early stages of her transition, out to her understanding father and brother and to her schoolmates, but still months away from the surgery that will give her the body she desperately wants. Joining a dance school to become a ballerina lets her do the thing she loves, but it comes with stress she definitely does not need as she starts hormone treatments.
While some scenes did not satisfy me, and even angered me a bit (one for seeming to promote, or at least not wholly discouraging, self-harm), the whole of “Girl” is a welcome shift away from the content I’m used to seeing produced in this country. Victor Polster’s performance goes a long way toward showing how a trans person feels during their transition. He gives a face to the seemingly insignificant things that carry extra weight for a person in transition, the highs and the lows—the joy of being identified by strangers as the gender you identify as, or the disappointment and disgust of simply seeing your own God-given genitalia. “Girl” humanizes the struggles every trans person goes through (not all to the same degree, of course), without over-dramatizing them or exploiting them.
On the technical side, “Girl” doesn’t look too much different than other movies you’ve seen. Its handheld camerawork has the kinetic energy (especially during those ballet scenes) of “Black Swan,” without all the intense and shocking content to justify its horrifying sharpness. It favors natural sound over music, though the ballet scenes give us a reprieve from the everyday-ness of the soundtrack. But “Girl” doesn’t need anything special beyond its story—so refreshing, so needed—about an assumed “other” living a life that would look so much like everyone else’s, if only we would let her.