Review: A French mother fights for her daughter’s rights in moving documentary ‘Little Girl’

A little girl in with a butterfly barrette in the documentary “Little Girl.”
Sasha, the subject of the documentary “Little Girl.”
(Agat Films & Cie / Arte France / Music Box Films)

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Sasha is a girl. A girl assigned male at birth, but a girl nonetheless. And though this is not up for debate, as proven in director Sébastien Lifshitz’s delicately affecting documentary “Little Girl,” prevalent transphobia hinders her right to exist happily assured in her body.

From an early age Sasha asserted gender identity and now at 8 years old, in a loving and accepting family, she gets to live her truth, but only at home. School authorities in her small French town resist acknowledging her as who she is. In preventing her from expressing that in how she dresses and the pronouns she uses, trauma is inflicted.


Such treatment doesn’t sit well with her parents, especially her mother, the film’s actual protagonist. Lifshitz closely and compassionately chronicles the woman’s tireless trajectory to defend her child that began with profound guilt, wondering if her desire for a daughter caused Sasha’s gender dysphoria, but evolves into strenuous determination.

There’s a vital message in having an average family, initially not well versed in LGBTQ+ issues, be simply willing to love their daughter and to fight for her. Sasha herself doesn’t speak much but communicates her joy in free-spirited instances picking out a new bathing suit or discarding clothing that doesn’t reflect her reality. Conversely, the film is at its most heartbreaking when the girl cries and her mother in turn shares her tears of impotence.

With sun-kissed cinematography by Paul Guilhaume and the construction of the story in miraculously intimate closeups of touching moments, “Little Girl” plays almost as if it were an aesthetically verité, yet scripted fiction film from the Dardenne brothers. It’s only the handful of interviews where the family speaks to the camera that breaks the spell.

“At some point, Sasha will be attacked for being different,” says her mother with dreadful certainty while on screen a storm brews. Suffering shouldn’t be inherent to the experience of trans people; it’s a product of other people’s hurtful reactions and rejection. There’s a glimmer of hope in how most of Sasha’s young peers respect her without misgivings, but lamentably, mom’s worries in the world that we live in aren’t unfounded.

‘Little Girl’

In French with English subtitles

Not Rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 17 in limited release, including the Laemmle Royal, West L.A.