"TOMBOY" — ★★★ — Zoe Heran, Malonn Levana, Jeanne Disson, Sophie Cattani, Mathieu Demy; not rated but probable R (mature content); in French with English subtitles; Tower
"Tomboy," a brief and sweetly refreshing French film, is the story of a lie.
Ten-year-old Laure (Zoe Heran) has moved to a new suburb with her parents (Sophie Cattani, Mathieu Demy) and 6-year-old sister Jeanne (adorable Malonn Levana). Wandering the neighborhood in the loose, sunny days of summer vacation, she meets a group of local kids — who, noting her short hair and tomboyish clothing, immediately assume that she's a boy.
Laure goes with it, telling them her name is Mikael and creating a new identity for herself: a tough, taciturn kid who'll fight to protect his little sister, and who's captured the eye of the neighborhood princess, Lisa (Jeanne Disson). She knows the end of vacation and the start of school must bring her lie into the open, but it seems that she doesn't care, and wants to be Mikael — if just for the summer.
There's little dialogue in "Tomboy," and most of its scenes are between children: Laure and Jeanne's parents, loving but distracted, are kept mostly in the background. Writer/ director Celine Sciamma (whose one previous film was "Water Lilies") has a knack for capturing kids at their most natural, as even little Levana delivers her lines without sounding scripted. (Jeanne, in a sweet subplot, decides she likes the idea of a big brother and goes along with Laure's subterfuge, adding layers to the fantasy.)
It's not entirely clear whether Laure genuinely yearns to be a boy, or whether she's just intrigued by the game (a late scene hints that it might be the latter), but it doesn't matter. We see Laure, steely and determined, making her way through the bright forest near her street — a metaphorical stand-in, perhaps, for the mysterious journey of growing up — and just know that this wise, watchful child will somehow find her way home.
"Tomboy" is not rated but would probably receive and R for mature content; running time: 82 minutes.