Lara is a 15-year-old trans woman who dreams of becoming a great ballet dancer. She is in one of the most prestigious school’s in Europe. She is also two years away from the surgery that she feels will complete her transition. As she pushes herself harder and harder to achieve reach these goals, the stress puts both of her dreams in jeopardy.
There’s an overwhelming feeling of being trapped by circumstance throughout Girl. Victor Polster provides a committed performance as Lara. Throughout the film, she becomes frustrated by the setbacks that befall her. Though she is questioned throughout the film she is resolute in her sense of identity. It’s refreshing to see a story of self-discovery so clearly defined by certainty. She tentatively explores the world around her as all teenagers do. What sets Lara apart is her determination and sense of purpose.
This is a ballet movie so you are guaranteed some wince-inducing shots of beaten up feet, and reminders that this graceful beauty comes at an agonizing cost for its practitioners. The dance sequences are truly beautiful, incredibly choreographed and performed. As Lara pushes herself harder and harder, the bold camera work makes you feel her exhaustion and desperation.
The relationship between Lara and her father is a classic portrayal of suffocating risk-averse parenting. The father (portrayed earnestly and vividly by Arieh Worhalter) uses her unique circumstances to micro-manage her life. He doesn’t allow room for traditional teenage angst, interpreting every sign of sadness as a possible expression of regret or anxiety about her ‘decision’. He clearly cares deeply for his daughter but is a suffocating presence in the film and her life.
There is only one sequence of outright discrimination and hostility in which Lara’s classmates finally voice their apparent discomfort with her during a sleepover. This is a very difficult sequence to watch, but so too are the far more frequent unintentionally prejudiced moments. Well-meaning but naive figures, sometimes in positions of authority, single her out. The harshest of which is when the teacher of her class asks her to close her eyes so that he can take a poll of the girls to see if they are comfortable with Lara using the ladies toilets. There are no objections from the class, but the humiliation is plain to see on Victor Polster’s face. It’s a powerfully upsetting moment.
Girl is an empathetic portrayal of a young woman undergoing a stressful puberty. It’s a beautifully acted and intensely personal story of discovery.