A desire to be and to be with: A Tomboy story
Tomboy frames a free rewriting of gender
“Everyone is the other and no one is himself.” This is clearly one of the most provocative passages from Heidegger’s masterpiece, Sein Und Zeit (Being and Time), which beautifully matches the idea of performing something absent of film director Sciamma’s movie Tomboy.
Winner of Teddy Jury Award at Berlin International Film Festival, Audience Award Frameline San Francisco and Best Feature QFest Philadelphia, Tomboy tells the story of a ten year old French queer boy (Zoè Hèran), whose name assigned to him at birth is Laura, although “she” introduces himself as Mickäel to his new neighbors, among whom he meets Lisa and experiences his first love interest for her.
A puzzled expression of deep, essential “truthful self”, Tomboy frames a free rewriting of gender, that label printed on us at birth, like a brand delivered before us to guarantee a room in a shared, materialistic world.
Thoughtfully, scriptwriter and director Cèline Sciamma uses a controversial approach to transliteration and differentiation between being and playing. Indeed, like a room without a view where we are either “living a lie or losing everything”, Mickäel’s embodiment of gender fluctuates inbetween the blames for lack of honesty to oneself and the others. That is why, ‘Tomboy Laura’ is either a false self because of his neighborhood ‒ since “her” rewritten gender label is not socially recognized ‒ or a true self that is struggling for sharing his life in the only way he feels it is real.
However, despite the impossibility to reconnect the personal image in the Lacanian mirror of representation ‒ which we have been taught reflects ourselves and what we can actually see there ‒ Mickäel’s/ Laura’s trauma of inexplicability can still be overcome with the consciousness of neutrality of feelings. Indeed, as signifiers without the signified, languages full of demanding pseudocodes, humans are still emotional beings and embodiment of feelings. It is only a matter of how and through which filters these feelings are delivered that troubles the world.
Nevertheless, feelings remain the only true existence we can recognize because they have always been there, in our inner self, since our first heartbeat. They are the pre-personification of us as de-sidera, desires, which in Latin literally means ‘out of stars’. Our desires, these non-personified projections of faith against loneliness, follow the same long, delicate path of shooting stars and finally flash in the sky when they say their farewell. Are they really dead just because they turn out to be invisible?
I believe that a black hole that appears where a star used to shine stands for the same lack of understanding of a gender fluid person, who is a compound of desires hidden behind the blackness of misunderstanding. Accordingly, what is real of Mickäel is therefore his desire to be and to be with: he is neither a failed boy, “un garçon manqué”, nor even a boyish performance, but “a star-out” that sparkles and blinks at us, patiently hoping for a smile in return.
Writer: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Zoè Hèran, Malonn Lèvana, Jeanne Disson