Hollywood Elsewhere approves of eight of the Academy’s nine shortlisted foreign film contenders — Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Cold War (Poland), Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra‘s Birds of Passage (Columbia), Gustav Moller‘s The Guilty (Denmark), Florian_Henckel von Donnersmarck‘s Never Look Away (Germany), Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s Shoplifters (Japan), Nadine Labaki‘s Capernaum (Lebanon), Alfonso Cuaron‘s Roma (Mexico), and Lee Chang-dong‘s Burning (South Korea).
It’s not that I disapprove of Sergey Dvortsevoy‘s Ayka (Kazakhstan), which is ninth on the list — I just haven’t seen it.
HE strongly disapproves, however, of the Academy having blown off Lukas Dhont‘s Girl (Netflix). Winner of Un Certain Regard performance award and the Camera d’Or prize, Girl is the most finely assembled and emotionally affecting drama about a transgender person I’ve ever seen.
Stop the presses — this Belgian submission for Best Foreign Language Film felt like the most assured, immersive and delicately effective drama about a transgender person that I’ve ever seen in my life, or am likely to see in the future.
It’s the kind of film that could have conceivably been awful if it had been written or directed by the wrong kind of button-pushing American director (Dan Fogelman, say), but it feels deft, assured and completely right with Dhont at the helm.
Seriously — I was knocked out by how good Girl was, by how clean and upfront and non-manipulative the whole thing played (with the exception of a traumatic third-act scene that I won’t describe), and how much I felt for the character of Lara (Victor Polster), a 15 year-old dude who clearly ought to be female — he has the emotional timbre of a quiet, gentle, impeccably mannered young woman who was well-raised.
The story is about how poor Lara, who has a loving, understanding dad (Arieh Worthalter) and a highly emotional younger brother, is trying to do two difficult things at the same time — become a top-ranked ballerina in one of Belgium’s most prestigious ballet schools and prepare for transgender surgery.
Polster’s screen time isn’t especially verbal — he has a fair number of lines but mostly his performance is conveyed with his eyes (often glistening, anxious, conflicted) and his half-smile and a general look of Grace Kelly-like composure that he’s struggling to project at every turn.
I was told last night that Polster had to learn the ballet moves (which are considerable) from scratch, that he had no background in dancing whatsoever. All the more reason to praise. Polster won the Un Certain Regard Jury Award for Best Performance,
Girl was directed by Dhont, whom I enjoyed speaking to during the after-party. Shot in Brussels and co-written by Dhont and Angelo Tijssens, pic will be streamed by Netflix down the road. Please don’t overlook it. It’s one of the finest Best Foreign Language contenders I’ve seen this year. Curious as this may sound, but it’s accurate to describe Girl as “straight-guy friendly.” It projects sensitivity, dignity, poise and class. I liked it right away.