18-year-old Lola (Mya Bollaers) is estranged from her father Philippe (Benoît Magimel) after being thrown out of the family home. At the time Lola was still Lionel but her decision to pursue gender reassignment surgery so she can live as the woman she feels she is, caused division with Philippe who struggles to understand what she is going through. Lola did have the support of her mother Catherine, who passed away two years earlier, and in a cruel move Philippe banned Lola from attending the funeral. Forced together to fulfil Catherine’s final wishes of scattering her ashes in the North Sea, Lola and Philippe have to confront their differences and discover if they can move forward.
‘Lola and the Sea’ is a coming-of-age tale from writer/director Laurent Micheli and it tells a story that we don’t often see on screen. With transgender rights rarely out of the headlines these days, the film is timely and it should offer some comfort to others in the trans community who are struggling with their family while embarking on their own journey. Lola is focusing on getting a diploma to be a veterinary assistant and she proves to be capable of surviving on her own after her father turns his back on her. That’s not to say she doesn’t feel the hurt and abandonment that comes with it, and the absence of her mother makes life even more challenging.
The first time we see Lola and Philippe interacting, it’s clear that the relationship has plenty of issues to iron out. Lola is, understandably, resentful of the way her father has behaved and treated her, while Philippe believes that Lola has made decisions to purposely hurt the family. The plot device that forces them back together is a little clunky, and it treads familiar territory for this kind of story, but it is compelling to watch. Will Philippe come around to understanding Lola’s life or will the two depart from one another at the end having moved no further on?
Along the way the duo meet characters who help to pull them back from the situation so they can reflect and try to understand each other’s points of view. It would be easy to dismiss Philippe as a transphobe, and I’ve seen other reviews of the film do just that, but to do so is to miss the point of the film. He’s actually a man who can’t understand, or recognise, the child he helped bring into the world. What the film does a good job of doing is exploring the confusion that a parent of a transgender child can feel as they try to navigate a world they know absolutely nothing about.
The entire film rests on the shoulders of Mya Bollaers and Benoît Magimel, and they turn in excellent performance. The tension between the two feels so real and believable that you’d be forgiven for thinking they were actually daughter and father. Bollaers takes her emotions and allows them to gently simmer under the surface, making the explosive moments all that more impactful. Magimel on the other hand stays away from playing a caricature villain and he is convincing as a father who is spiralling as he tries to understand his child.
‘Lola and the Sea’ is a little predictable and perhaps ties things up neater than reality would allow but the film does engage the viewer and take you on a journey. Both of the main characters have flaws, and both have redeeming qualities, and I particularly liked that Micheli didn’t make this a right versus wrong scenario. ‘Lola and the Sea’ is likely to find an audience in the trans community, and beyond, and it will surely help other teens who are coming to terms with who they really are. Surely that in itself is reason enough to celebrate this film rather than pick holes?
Cast: Mya Bollaers, Benoît Magimel, Sami Outalbali Director: Laurent Micheli Writer: Laurent Micheli Certificate: 12 Duration: 90 mins Released by: Peccadillo Pictures Release date: 17th December 2021