Films: ‘Tomboy’ and ‘The Challengers’

I’ve just finished watching the 2011 French film ‘Tomboy‘, with Zoé Héran. While watching, I was reminded of the Canadian-made TV movie ‘The Challengers‘ (which stars a young Gema Zamprogna and the always brilliant Eric Christmas — check out the trailer), as the themes of the two films dovetail.

The latter film was made in a different era, and, I suspect, with far different intentions.

Both films star a girl who dresses as and passes for a boy. In ‘Tomboy’, Laure is settling into her new home outside Paris, and when she meets the gang of kids nearby, she decides to call herself Mikael. In ‘The Challengers’, Mackie is settling in a new town after the death of her father, and her interest in the local gang of boys, and a previous history of dressing as a boy for talent shows (she does a mean Cory Hart ‘Sunglasses at Night’) inspires her to dress as a boy, Mackie’s cousin ‘Mac Dales’.

(note the awesome 1980s clothes & hairstyles lol)

Where the two films split is the intention of the filmmaker. ‘The Challengers’ is really more about a story of a girl who is mourning her father; all the gender roles and other characters are incredibly hetero-normative, and (look, I’m going to spoil things here because this film is old) the resolution is very happy family TV-movie-esque: Mackie stops dressing as a boy and gets over her grief and is accepted in her new community. Her dressing as a boy is a phase of her grief, of wanting to become someone else. There’s no real hint of it being a strong part of her gender identity. Heck, the filmmakers probably didn’t even consider the concept of gender identity.

I’ve watched ‘The Challengers’ about a million times, so much so that I could probably recite whole sections of the film from memory (it was a standby for family programming on CBC, plus we had it on VHS when I was a kid). I wish that films like ‘Tomboy’ had been around, with their more gender-fluid interpretations.

‘Tomboy’, on the other hand… its intentions are different from the beginning. When we first meet Laure (and until she’s addressed in the feminine, some minutes into the film), it’s very easy to think she is a boy. She has short hair, wears boys shorts and vests and trainers, and she’s just young enough that she hasn’t begun to develop. If I hadn’t read the blurb about the film on Zip, I wouldn’t have even known up front that she was a girl.

There’s a greater sense of gender identity in this film; Laure has to measure up to the boys, she fights one of them and wins, she takes off her shirt while playing football. But of course, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is found out.

Interestingly, the reactions of the parents are pretty similar. A lot of denial about what their daughters are doing, and an insistence upon ‘proper’ gender roles. Mackie is told ‘No more Mac.’ Laure is given a dress to wear instead of her usual shorts and vest. However, I think that Laure’s mother is far more understanding in that she tells Laure that she doesn’t care if Laure wants to dress as a boy, except that she’ll be starting the school year and it would come out then anyway.

Where these films excel is in showing what boys and girls go through, and how their lives are affected by how others see them. There are certain things expected of a boy: he’s to be tough, no crying over small bumps and bruises (like Jonathan getting a fish hook in his palm in ‘The Challengers’), he must play football, he must be able to fight, that sort of thing. And girls… it’s dresses and an interest in makeup, and boys, a sensitivity that boys aren’t supposed to possess (or at least, admit to). Both films (though ‘Tomboy’ perhaps more than ‘The Challengers’) let the viewer think on these differences, and why certain roles are expected.

Can you recommend any films that deal with similar ideas and issues?

Guest Post: Daisy Harris’s Gay Movie Review Tour – Good But Depressing Gay Films

Hello, fair readers! And thanks, Alyssa, for having me on the blog today.

For those of you who don’t know—I write books. Romance books about gay men. As such, I watch a lot of gay movies, and gay-themed television shows. I figure that if you’re here, you might enjoy some of the same gay movies I have. And being that it’s the holidays, you might be looking for something new to watch….

So—This is the second post in my four-week Gay Movie Review blog tour. The tour calendar is at the end of the post, so you can follow along to other stops. As with most blog tours, there’s a prize involved. A randomly selected commenter will win a DVD of my favorite gay movie I’ve watched this year, Weekend as well as a book from my backlist.

On with the blog…

I’m a woman of little taste. I like my films silly, sexy, funny, cute, and heartfelt without being heart wrenching. But in the world of Gay cinema, sometimes even I get dragged into watching something that’s a bit of a downer.

The films below are good. I know they’re good. I’m even glad to have watched them. But they’ll never be on my Favorites list because they’re too effin’ depressing.

That said—plenty of people like downer movies. Just look at all the people who saw The Piano, Love Story, and The Notebook!

I have a very low tolerance for negativity. I can’t stand Les Mis, and was depressed for a week after watching Moulin Rouge. So, my opinions need to be taken with a grain of salt.

So if you like tear-jerkers, these movies are for you. Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

#1 Eyes Wide Open
Eyes Wide Open is one of those movies that’s hard for me to recommend because I can’t tell if I actually “enjoyed” it. I will say this—at least no one died. But that’s cold comfort when at the end of the movie the couple you’ve been watching and living through and rooting for breaks apart, and the rather handsome young man you’re halfway in love with has to leave town because he’s gay.

Yeah, Eyes Wide Open is that kind of movie. Riveting, engaging, heavy, and totally flipping depressing.

It’s from Israel, which may or may not contribute to its depressingness. The only other Israeli gay movie I’ve seen, Yossi and Jagger, was even more miserable than Eyes Wide Open. Mine is a small sample size for sure, but I’ll admit, I won’t be expecting any rollicking sex comedy to come out of Israel any time soon.

Here’s the plotline: In Jerusalem, a married, Orthodox Jewish father falls in love with his 20 year old male assistant. Persecution, sex, persecution, misery, more persecution, and eventual break up ensue.

It won awards. The depressing movies always do. The star, Johar Shtrauss, won Best Actor at the 2009 Jerusalem Film Festival. His performance as Aaron Fleishman was amazing. Mostly, it involved scrunching his eyebrows. He may have also been frowning, but he had a giant beard, so I couldn’t tell.

Speaking of giant beards—he also had a giant beard in the form of a wife and a passel of an indeterminate number of kids. I actually felt more sorry for his wife than I did for him or his lover.

In fact, I was depressed for everyone by the end of this movie, even the secondary characters. I’m glad I saw it, though. I mean—I need some depressing movies under my belt to make it seem like I’m not completely shallow. But I can’t say I was exactly happy to have watched it.

But if heart wrenching, tragic love stories in rich and unusual settings appeal to you, then by all means—watch Eyes Wide Open.

Oh, and Ran Danker was HOT as Ezri. Seriously smokin’. The eye candy made the sadness partly worthwhile.

#2: Shank
Shank is both more and less depressing than Eyes Wide Shut. On the one hand, it has a hopeful ending. On the other hand, so many horrible things happen during the course of the movie that it’s hard to feel good about the story as a whole.

It’s a British film set in Bristol. No subtitles.

Here’s the set up: Closeted gang member Cal (played by Wayne Virgo) spends his days beating the crap out of gay people, doing drugs, lusting after his BFF gang-buddy, and trying to hide the fact that he’s gay. Intermixed with the violence, he has an extremely sexy moment with his buddy hanging out shirtless in the front seat of a car, shotgunning pot smoke. (Y’know, as straight gang members do…)

One day, he saves a kid his gang is beating up on, and then he runs after the guy to give him a ride.

The kid is a university student and about as fem as you can possibly imagine. Also, very sweet. His name is Olivier (of course) and he’s played by the quite awesome Marc Laurent.

Fearing retribution from his gang for interfering with the beating, Cal asks to stay at Olivier’s house. They end up having sex, falling in love, etc.

But the gang, led by Nessa (Alice Payne), is furious at Cal for his betrayal, and they aim for retribution. Kidnapping, and the to-be-expected-given-all-the-violence ass rape* ensue.

In the end, Olivier calls for help and gets Cal home with the help of one of his professors. But even as it looks like Cal is going to leave with Olivier for a new life, we learn that Cal and his gang beat said university professor’s husband so badly he’s still in a coma.

So, yeah. A lot of spoilers, but you may as well know going in what you’re getting yourself into.

This shiznit is depressing.

That said—it’s also completely awesome. From the very first frame, I could not stop watching. Shank is vicious and brutal and painful and even beautiful. I don’t think I could make myself watch it a second time. It’s too much of a downer. But I’m really glad I watched it once.

I highly recommend you watch it, too.

And like so many other depressing movies, it’s won awards: The Audience Award at the Barcelona International Gay Film Festival, and the Emerging Talent in Queer Cinema at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

There’s even a sequel coming out, called Cal. Here’s hoping that it’s less depressing than the original.

*Note: My use of “ass rape” here is NOT metaphorical. It is an actual rape scene. Like, seriously. Sensitive viewers be warned!

This ends today’s installment of my Gay Movie Review Blog Tour. Stop by Coffee and Porn on Tuesday where I’ll be discussing Gay Movies with Soccer Themes!

And if after watching the Good-but-Depressing movies above, you need a pick-me-up, read one of my Holsum College titles. They’re about as light and fluffy as you can get. 🙂

Tour schedule:

Birkenstock-wearing glamour girl and mother of two by immaculate conception, Daisy Harris still isn’t sure if she writes erotica. Her romances start out innocently enough. However, her characters behave like complete sluts. Much to Miss Harris’s dismay the sex tends to get completely out of hand.

She writes about fantastical creatures and about young men getting their freak on, and she’s never missed an episode of The Walking Dead.

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