Stars: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Oliver Bodart
The debut picture from Belgian writer-director Lukas Dhont is a deeply affecting and intimate study of identity that revolves around a troubled teen. Fifteen-year-old Lara (Polster) is transitioning from boy to girl, undergoing hormone therapy treatment and awaiting her gender reassignment surgery. Along with her sympathetic father Mathias (Worthalter) and younger brother (Bodart) she has recently moved to a new city in order to attend the elite ballet school where she has been accepted. The cumulative pressure of the strenuous training, adolescent pangs and the long wait for her surgery begin to take their toll. Usually pictures about this subject matter deal with the external travails the lead character must undergo. Here, refreshingly, the people surrounding Lara are supportive and empathetic, even her fellow ballet students, save for one uncomfortable drink-fuelled incident at a house party. It is Lara’s psychological condition that the director is concerned with, conveyed by shots in which she obsessively studies herself in the mirror. So skilful and empathetic is Polster’s performance that her character, despite her rarefied circumstances, is entirely relatable. A sequence where Lara starts to test her boundaries and has a tentative date with the boy upstairs is almost unbearably poignant. The jarring ending, however, may divide audiences.