After spending the year making rounds at various film festivals, tonight, Little Girl (originally titled Petite Fille in it’s native language) held it’s UK premiere. I was able to attend this premiere at Curzon’s partnership with Camden Market, in their temporary open air cinema in the North Yard – and I have walked straight home with a need to write about it.

Petite Fille follows Sasha, an eight year old French girl beginning to live her life as a girl for the first time, after being assigned male at birth. The film tracks her and her family with an empathetic eye as she makes the change to her authentic self, through her first meetings with specialised doctors and difficulties with school, in a more secluded area of France where transgenderism isn’t necessarily understood.

It is unlike many documentaries I have seen. Indeed, I was uncertain whether it was a documentary or a fictional story until I researched it after watching. It’s that raw and beautiful.

It is directed by Sébastien Lifshitz, who accompanied Sasha for one year. He filmed her life, some significant moments in it and some mundane ones, then selected the key pieces to transform into this one, eighty five minute film. It creates a real portrait of this one little girl, which hits deep in your heart and is dreamy to experience.

There are virtually none of the typical documentary elements to this film: the only remaining one being talking head interviews with Sasha’s family. Yet, this feels almost more like a series of monologues – they’re intimate, and moving, almost like confessionals. It is hard to imagine a camera there filming it, each feels so honest and true.

Lifshitz presents the subject matter as it should always be perceived: totally devoid of controversy. It shows Sasha authentically, with total acceptance of who she is, without making a deliberate statement about it. In that way, I feel a more significant statement is made: this isn’t ‘a transgender documentary’, this is a story of one, individual transgender girl. Here she is: a real person, with a real experience, that cannot be disputed.

Even more so moving is Sasha herself. We meet her at a strange time in her life; where while both she and her family are understanding and accepting of her experience, she is still living as a boy publicly due to many, particularly her school’s, rejection of her identity. She is a quietly fierce little girl, someone so young that she can’t possibly fully understand the significance of her experience; yet feels it so firmly and undeniably.

Born to two working class parents in a small town in France, Sasha herself is beyond endearing protagonist. Her mother speaks of Sasha stating “When I grow up, I’ll be a girl,” from as young as three years old, and to see her now at age seven, with that vision coming to fruition, is a deeply powerful experience.

What I admire most about Lifshitz’s approach to Sasha and her story, is that though this is clearly an inmate portrait of her life, there is an evident sensitivity that means we never cross the boundary and intrude on a vulnerable young girl’s life. The film is solely about her, yet she feels protected, represented instead through her immediate surroundings.

Sasha’s family, accepts and embraces her identity without difficulty. She is the third of four children, and each of her siblings shows not a moment’s hesitation in loving . Her parents are exemplary: her father, from the very start, asserts his opinion on the matter by plain and simply stating: “It’s not a question of ‘tolerating,’ it’s Sasha and that’s it.” Her mother, Karine, is the standout, memorable individual of the piece. It is her who essentially leads the film, as she relays how she came to learn about Sasha being a girl; admits her initial lack of understanding and subsequent guilt; and now clearly shows herself as a mother resolute on being nothing but a champion for her daughter.

As I mentioned earlier, Sasha’s family is from a small town which is largely uninformed about gender dysphoria or anything relating to it. Katrine as a mother, had never had to consider something such as this, and after realising that is was something fiercely true in her child’s identity, has devoted herself to learning about in order to understand, support, and fight for her – regardless of how unheard of it is in their hometown. She is warm and loving, and it’s her love that is the defining element to this entire film.

While the issue is not ignored, there is no direct attention paid to any backlash Sasha and her family receive. We only hear about it through them relaying it themselves, and each time it is discussed with sad disappointment, tinted just slightly with anger – always with the absolute certainty that how they are raising Sasha is what is right for her.

It’s wildly important that it is seen just how easy it is to love and support your children for whoever they are. That, for me, is the defining beauty of this film.

The camera work too is exquisite. It’s shot by Paul Guilhaume, with some work by Celine Bozon as well; and is full of gorgeous, warm, soft shots of Sasha and her family. I was pondering on my walk home about whether it feels like a so called ‘fly on the wall’ perspective, and have ultimately decided that it does not. Instead, what Guilhaume does is place us in step with Sasha herself. We see the world through her experience: indeed, even the camera angles are low to maintain the same eye level as her.

This film has a significance to it that I struggle to explain. I was gripped from the very first moment, taken in by it’s warmth, love and compassion towards this one little girl. Sasha’s family are affirming, beacons of hope for a better world for transgender people, and Sébastien Lifshitz translates it to screen in a way that transcends what we know a documentary to be.

I want more films to be like this. I want the world to be more like this.

Petite Fille is a family’s love, and one girl’s truth, captured on film. To watch it is to bask in that – it is a soul affirming piece that I urge everyone to watch.

Little Girl (Petite Fille) is in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, 25th September.


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