Girl, as seen by Lukas Dhont

Film still of Girl © RR

Girl is the first feature film by Belgian director Lukas Dhont – an exploration of gender through the character of Lara, 15 years old, a young girl born in a boy's body, who dreams of becoming a star dancer. Presented in Un Certain Regard, the film is in the running for the Caméra d’Or.

How did the idea of making this film come about?

In 2009, I read an article in a Belgian newspaper about a young girl, born in a boy's body, who wanted nothing more than to become a ballerina. The story immediately struck me and I kept thinking about it and going back to it for ages. I fell in love with this girl. To me she was an example of courage and I said to myself: if I make a first feature I want it to be about her.

What was the atmosphere like on set?

We shot for two months during the summer of 2018. Our biggest challenge was to teach all the choreography to the young group of dancers working with us on the film, most of them aged 15. They rehearsed for over a period of three months before the shoot started and in the first 6 days we shot all the dance parts. It was a very tough start to the shoot for all of us. We wanted to be able to shoot 360 degrees in the dance studio so that meant everyone had to dance full on the whole time and part of our crew had to be hidden behind mirrors.

A few words about your actors?

When Angelo Tijssens, my co-writer, and myself had finished the script we knew it was going to be an extreme challenge to find someone for the leading role. We started casting in May 2017 and saw over 500 youngsters. Our casting was genderless in the sense that we saw girls, boys or young people that felt both categories didn't suit them. But our lead was not among them. So we started casting the other young dancers together with our choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. And all of a sudden in January 2018 a young boy named Victor Polster entered the room. He had all the qualities we were looking for: an amazing dancer, very natural, very elegant and only 15 years old. 'Girl' is his first acting experience.

For the father we decided to cast Arieh Worthalter, an actor who is becoming increasingly well-known. During their first audition together I let Victor and Arieh cook a meal for me. It was clear from the very start that there was a chemistry between them, that they were going to adore each other and that they would create the father-child dynamic the film needs.

What are your main influences?

A lot of things inspire me but for this specific project I would say the biggest inspiration were the young transgenders I met writing the script for this film. All of them are young heroic people challenging the norms in our society and choosing the truest versions of themselves.

What are your thoughts on the film industry in Belgium?

Belgian cinema is doing great. I think we have some amazing new voices coming up: Ann-Julie Vervaeke, Leonardo Van Dijl, Nathalie Teirlinck, Emilie Verhamme, Gilles Coulier, Wouter Bouvijn, Anthony Schatteman, Michiel Dhont, Zeno Graton,…I could go on. A new wave of young people is making movies and I am really excited and inspired to be among them. Girl is in both French and Flemish. To me that was a really important thing that was also a feature of my short films. We're living in a country divided by its language barrier. I identify myself as a Belgian filmmaker.