Little Girl’ Review: Realizing There’s More

What is the movie about?

The Little Girl opens in New York and Los Angeles on September 17. Sebastien Lifshitzs wraps a 7-year-old transgender girl from France called Sasha. In a kind of visual cocoon that hugs her, her family shoots her in the warm afternoon light as a protection from the shadow they have around their house. The little Girl feels textured and contemplative, with a narrative trait.  

Lifshitz called the parents of a young transsexual, and he found out that Sasha and her family, who are reluctant to adopt, have been there for him and his small crew all their lives. Lifshitz placed Sasha’s mother Karine in contact with a sensitive doctor specializing in such cases and filmed a crucial scene where Karine and Sasha talk to her about Sasha’s school problems. 

What all did the Little Girl go through in the movie?

Physical bullying is mentioned, and Sasha’s face is the first armor she does not remember. Tears begin to form in her eyes, and we see the build-up of emotions during the fight. She keeps like this for a long time, tears that hold and hold and hold until she gives up, and then her face crumples. She begins to cry, and you have to have a heart of stone to not be touched by her pain and her brave fight to suppress it.   

Lifshitz is not allowed access to Sasha’s school, and we hear things about how intolerant and religious the principal is. Many other students accept Sasha, but the main problem is the adults. We see Sasha in ballet class footage with another little girl in tutus and sakhas trying to tuck her into a dress or shirt and pants. 

Karine and Sasha sit in a child psychiatrist’s office, and Karine says the Russian ballet teacher Sasha was kicked out of the classroom because she told him to treat her like a girl: “We don’t do that in Russia,” says Karine. But Karine talks about it as if her face were armor. Every person needs armor in life, and some people are forced to make more armor than others.   

At one point, Sashas talks to her son and feels guilty that she cannot spend as much time with him as he says because she struggles to fight against herself. Despite these painful scenes, “Little Girl” is steeped in the unconditional love Sasha and the family feel for her and each other. This is a portrait of a particular situation, and its resilience and mystery scratch at the childlike personalities that form within it.  

His touch is so delicate that it would make an American talk-head documentary seem clumsy and formulaic by comparison. Lifshitz has made narrative films, including the erotic “Come Undone” (with Stephane Rideau) and “The Wild Side,” and in 2004. He was ahead of the curve when he cast a transgender actress, Stephanie Michelini, in a transgender lead role, but he has recently focused on documentaries.    

During the filming of “Bambi,” a 1950 portrait of Paris trans dancer and showgirl Marie-Pierre Pruvot, Lifshitz became curious about the childhood of trans people and told him she knew she was trans from the age of three or four. He called the parents of young transgender children and found Sasha and her family hesitant to welcome him and his small crew into their lives. He connected Sasha’s mother Karine with a sensitive doctor who specialized in the case and filmed a pivotal scene in which Karine and Sasha talked to the doctor about problems Sasha had at school. 

Despite the painful scenes, “Little Girl” is steeped in Sasha’s family’s unconditional love for her and others. Sasha talks to her son at one point and feels guilty that she can’t spend as much time with him because of the struggle she has to fight against herself, but he says he understands. This is a portrait of a particular situation, and its resilience and mystery scratch at the childlike personalities that form within it. Little Girl opens in New York and Los Angeles on September 17. 

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