From the first shot of its ten-year-old protagonist, “Tomboy” is a study in gender identity and expectations.

Young Zoé Héran grounds the film with an amazing performance as the lead character, who moves to a new neighborhood and self-identifies to the local kids as Mikael, “the new boy in the building.”

But at home, Mikael is Laure, and writer-director Céline Sciamma (“Water Lilies”) includes a full-frontal shot of the female-bodied child emerging from the bathtub to show us the conflict between the character’s two identities.

Laure has an overworked father (Mathieu Demy), a very pregnant mother (Sophie Cattani) and a tres femme six-year-old sister, Jeanne (Malonn Lévana), with whom she’s very close. In many ways their new home represents a new beginning and we learn next to nothing about their old life.

Moving ‘Tomboy’ explores youth, gender

The first friend “Mikael” makes is Lisa (Jeanne Disson), a girl who’s in the same grade but looks a bit older. Mikael could become Lisa’s first crush, which of course would complicate things. So could the dick he fashions from clay to pad his bathing suit.

The story takes place toward the end of summer, meaning the deception can’t go on indefinitely. If the truth doesn’t come out before school starts, schools have a way of defining students by their gender. There are surprises, both sweet and bitter, as things play out.

After screening last October at Out on Film, “Tomboy” returns to Atlanta Jan. 20 for one week at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas.

Opens Jan. 20
Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas
931 Monroe Drive, Atlanta, GA 30308