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Secrets of a Dedicated “Tomboy”

While both of French director Celine Sciamma’s feature films examine the exploits of young girls coming of age, their stories are quite different. Tomboy, opening in Los Angeles Nov. 25, primarily scuffs it up with neighborhood boys, while Water Lilies, her award-winning 2007 feature, is set in the elegant and decidedly girly world of water ballet.

“I think you have to write about something you know,” says Sciamma, explaining why the main character in each film is a new kid on the block dealing with issues of gender identity. “I was kind of a loner as a teen. I spent a lot of time reading and hiding in the movie theaters, probably because I was discovering I was gay.”

Growing up in France in the 1980s, Sciamma says short hair was fashionable for girls. “I was sometimes mistaken for a boy. I remember enjoying it sometimes, and sometimes not.”

Laure, the main character in Tomboy, easily passes for a boy. Her motivation is to do the things she loves to do, which happen to be the things that the boys love too.

“I think that's why the movie had a great success in France, going further than the circle of the LGBT audience,” says Sciamma. “That's also why children really connect to it. This story tells a lot about childhood, a time where everybody plays to be someone else for an afternoon.”

In pulling off her ruse, Laure attracts the attention of a neighborhood girl, and they kiss. The other kids consider them “boyfriend” and girlfriend.

“In France the movie even became a family movie, and it's being shown in schools,” says Sciamma, when asked if audiences have a problem seeing the girls kiss. “The character is experiencing, in the present. And that's what I think about childhood, it's all about the present.”

While the movie doesn’t make sexuality an issue, Sciamma leaves it open to interpretation.

“It was a choice from the start to make the movie very open. It's not a way to avoid the gay [issue], it's a way to be political to make the film welcoming for a wide audience. I made it with several layers, so that a transsexual person can say ‘that was my childhood’ and so that a heterosexual woman can also say it. The movie creates bond. That's something I'm proud of.”

While Sciamma hasn’t picked her next project yet, “I think I will go on writing about girls,” she says. “But I'm done with childhood that's for sure.”

Tomboy opens in Los Angeles Nov. 25.