Berlinale 2020: French Documentary 'Little Girl' is Inspiringly Beautiful
by Alex Billington
February 29, 2020
This is one of the most beautiful documentaries I have ever seen. Without a doubt. I need to start with that statement. Everyone's personal definition of what is "beautiful" is different, but I think this is one time we can all agree that this film is objectively beautiful. Little Girl is yet another festival film that I can't get out of my head, and will likely never forget, for a number of beguiling reasons. The way the filmmakers tell this story so sensitively, with so much care and with so much integrity and so much reassurance, is part of it. But it's also just a staggering film about one young girl who is beautiful inside and out. And the filmmakers are telling her story so that we can learn from her, so that we can push society forward by learning to evolve our compassion. And push us to step away from toxic stereotypes that have plagued this planet for far too long.
Directed by French filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz (of other award-winning documentaries including The Crossing, Les Invisibles, Bambi, The Lives of Thérèse, Adolescentes), this intimate new doc film is about a young girl named Sasha. The title, Petite Fille (in French) or Little Girl in English, is meaningful because it is indeed about a "little girl" - a French child named Sasha who is a girl stuck inside of a boy's body. She has decided this already, and has been expressing her desire to grow up as a girl ever since she was 2 years old. The film is also about her family, and her parents, specifically her mother Karine who supports her and challenges herself to provide a better life for Sasha. Not only does she question herself, she confronts people in society who refuse to accept her child the way she chooses to be. Fighting intolerance with understanding.
One of the other key reasons this film is so beautiful is that it doesn't try to hit the audience over-the-head with politics or demands or anger. Lifshitz steps back and lets Karine and Sasha express themselves in front of the camera. It's their story. And we, as candid viewers, are treated to an extraordinarily moving story of a mother and her children, and of a family that accepts and supports their kids and anything they want to be, anything they want to do. This doc film is the epitome of empathetic, sensitive, compassionate filmmaking that actually has the power to change society. It's so wonderfully touching and such a powerful example of how parents should be. Karine admits she's not perfect, but she is always working to be better, and we can subsequently learn from her by watching her putting love and unconditional support above everything else.
Little Girl is really as exceptional as something like Dear Zachary (as extremely tragic and heartbreaking as that film is), in the way it's such a beautifully told story about parenting (though definitely not tragic). And it will earn that kind of legendary status, the way people still refer to Dear Zachary often 12 years later. I can see this documentary going all the way to the Academy Awards, and becoming a prominent example used to teach people how to be more open-minded. It is hands down one of the best doc films of this year, I can say this even two months in, and I am certain it will stick with me over the next ten months. A story for all of us, no matter who we think we are, to learn how to respect and appreciate everyone for who they want to be, and who they are, no matter what that means. No matter if it's strange or unexpected. Be you. Always.