Girl (2018): Interview with Director Lukas Dhont about his Award-Winning Transgender Film

Girl, one of the best films ever made about the phenom of trans, centers on Lara (Victor Polster), a teenage girl assigned male by birth, who pursues her dream of becoming a professional ballerina with the support of her loving father.

Winner of the Camera d’Or for best first film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, as well as the Best Performance and FIPRESCI International Critics Prize in Un Certain Regard, and the Queer Palm Award for outstanding LGBTQ filmmaking, Gil represents the striking feature directorial debut of Lukas Dhont.

The film was written by Dhont and ​Angelo Tijssens.

Origins of the Film:

Lukas Dhont

When I was 18 years old, I came across an article in a Belgian newspaper about a 15-year-old girl named Nora. Nora was assigned male at birth. As she grew and became aware of who she is, she understood she wanted to live her authentic life and realized her dream of becoming an artist as a ballerina. The fact that a 15-year-old had the courage to be true to herself above the opinion (and objection) of others both shocked and inspired me.

Nora’s story stayed with me and a year later, after having entered film school, I reached out to her. We got to know one another and soon grew to be close friends. She became a central figure in my life and, in time ,the desire to make this personal hero of mine a public role model of strength and courage was something I could not ignore.

GIRL, my first feature film, is the biggest personal and professional endeavor of my life, and I rank the former highly above the latter.

This story was made to honor a friend and the weight of that responsibility was not taken lightly. The thought of making a film that in any way cheapened her life, upset her, or threatened to tarnish our friendship would have been an irreversible devastation.

We went to great lengths, including working directly with Nora and the medical team of the Ghent University Hospital (one of the two leaders i n Europe for the medical treatment of trans people) to ensure GIRL was made from the first draft to final edit as an accurate portrayal of this young ballerina. GIRL is not Nora’s autobiography, but she inspired the film strongly.  It was an intense five-year process for the entire team.

It was also important to us that the film showed its central figure, Lara, as a protagonist surrounded by love. Nora and I wanted as little conflict as possible with the outside world, so that her own body would become her greatest antagonist. She struggles with her body on two dimensions:

  1. As a girl who lives in a society where gender and body are inevitably connected                                   and
  2. As a girl who is tested by the demanding physical requirements of dance. Lara’s                                 primary battle is with herself and the film follows this journey.

This film is born from the independent filmmaking community in Belgium. Our team openly mandated and conducted genderless casting. We auditioned cisgender and transgender artists.

GIRL does not seek to represent an entire community, but offers the portrait of one girl, Lara:  a teenager, a dancer, a daughter with a unique and powerful story.

Nora Monsecour, the inspiration for Girl:

I am very proud to have been part of the production team behind GIRL, a film personally inspired by my story of being transgender. My dear friend Lukas Dhont thoughtfully brought this story to life on screen in a sensitive and delicateway, and I can only thank and praise him for the attention paid to the details in telling Lara’s story. I was brought into this process very early on and have great respect and appreciation for how carefully this film was made by Lukas and his team.

As the production was coming together, the choice of Victor Polster to play Lara was the best and most powerful decision Lukas could have made. It was important for me that Lara was portrayed by someone who is natural, strong fighter and who wasn’t scared of taking on this complex role. Even though he is cisgender, Victor was the one actor we saw in a long audition process who best translated Lara’s deep emotions and physicality onto the screen.

I wanted Lara to be played by someone who could take care of her in a loving and humane way and am       forever grateful that he took on this role and shaped Lara the way she came to life on screen;  beautiful, powerful and relatable. Victor truly is a gift.

In the end, my wish is for GIRL to inspire people. I recently have had the immense privilege of  starting my professional career with a company in Germany and I continue to see Lara’s journey in the film as similar to my own – an example that everything and anything is possible and that we shouldn’t give up on our dreams no matter our struggles.

I hope this film continues to amplify the important conversations about our transgender                           community and that audiences in the U.S. and around the world will be as moved as the