French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, whose debut feature, Water Lilies (2007), positioned her as an on-the-rise auteur, has found in her new film, Tomboy, a way to reckon with our increasing obsession with a gendered childhood, in this country and abroad. It’s a political film, she admits, but do politics always have to be wielded like a cross? Sciamma weighs in.
BULLETT: Do you see this as a political film? When this is released in America, I’m assuming it will be compared quite a bit to Boys Don’t Cry.
CÉLINE SCIAMMA: It is political, of course, but not in the same way as Boys Don’t Cry, because Boys Don’t Cry is really based on a true story, and it’s about the adult world. Tomboy is political in its universal insight. To me, it’s a way to be political—because you connect people to a subject to which they never thought they’d feel connected, so the movie is quite political in its generosity toward the matter. It’s the same fight, but it’s not the same weapons.
I really like the film’s portrayal of young boyhood as this feudal thing where you need to win at a sport in order to be accepted. In representations of childhood, we don’t often see kids in groups doing everything that adults do, but on a much smaller scale.
It’s the island situation—Lost or Lord of the Flies. I wanted to set the story in childhood because I think that in childhood experimenting goes with invention. In childhood, you have the right to invent yourself. When you’re an adult, if you dress up as a boy when you’re a girl, you’re a transvestite. When you’re a kid, it’s a disguise.
Have you come up against anyone who’s responded poorly to the story?
No, it’s really been positive—I haven’t had any bad response. The only bad response I keep having is about the parents, like, “They shouldn’t do this, they should do this,” as if they had to be moral characters. I just want for them to be characters—of course they don’t have the answer. They like to do good, but you can be clumsy doing good, and you can be violent without wanting it. Parents always have to feel guilty about what they do—guilty for life. You have to accept that you can’t share everything with your child and that you’re not responsible for everything, and that sometimes you will do good, sometimes you will do wrong. To me that’s fair.
When you were writing the script, how did you think about showing Laure’s internal self?
Well, I wrote the script as an action movie. I didn’t want to go through psychological matters. I felt like the child wouldn’t go through it as a mental state. Even when she thinks, she thinks about—when she’s cutting her swimming suit, putting on Play-Doh, she’s thinking, but she’s acting on it. And so that’s how I wrote it. I tried always to implement the thoughts in action. I was really trying to write it as a thriller, where you share her anxiety about whether or not she’ll be discovered. So it’s really all about those simple action scenes. It’s not about why she’s doing it, it’s about how she’s doing it.