Watching first-time actor Victor Polster nailing the role of a young transgender in the painful transition from boy to girl, I would have never guessed that Polster is not a transgender himself. Yes, he is THAT good! And then some more. Some spoilsport critics have objected to a non-trans playing one. By that logic, only serial killers, rapists and anarchist should play these roles.
It’s all about acting, in case some finicky critics have forgotten. And Polster as Lara is a revelation. The first-time director Lukas Dhonst leaves nothing to the imagination. The film has graphic scenes of genital exposure and self-violence, so harsh and brutal they could disturb you for a lifetime.
Life is not easy for a man moving into the other gender. As I saw the palpable pain of the transitional protagonist I was reminded my dear friend Rituparno Ghosh who went through a similar far more painful man-to-woman surgical process. It finally took his life. Lara survives. She has an astonishing support system which Rituparno never had.
One of the many delights of watching this masterpiece about gender migration is to see the transitional transgender’s relationship with her father Mathias (played by an excellent Belgian actor Arieh Worthalter). The father’s patience and compassion see Lara through to the other side.
There is a scene of father-and-daughter snuggled up in bed with the father exhorting Lara by reminding her of what an example she is to the transgender community. “But I don’t want to be an example. I just want to be a girl," Lara replies. Sequences such as the above are overwhelmingly comforting and reassuring in their normalized tone in an abnormal situation.
Then there is the cinematography. This is a film that comes from a place of absolute honesty and concern. It is savagely unsparing in showing us the details of Lara’s emotional and physical pain, her disconnect with the world of the normal around her and her passion for ballet which drives Lara into inhuman levels of arduous practice and self-damage.
The girl is a marvel of creation, Unlike the super-heroes of Marvel, Lara is a hero with buildings and nations to protect. This masterpiece doesn’t strut its excellence to win awards. There is an urgent story waiting to be told here. And it is told without fears or frills. As for macho actors running around in sarees pretending to be a transgender, do watch Girl. Victor Polster will seriously remind you of what an actor is supposed to do.
Directed by Lukas Dhont, Girl gets 4 and a half stars.
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