FILM REVIEW: Girlhood

Girlhood (Céline Sciamma, 2014)

For the love of god, do your research before you see a film! This is NOT a sequel to Boyhood, nor does it have anything to do with that film. The French title directly translated is ‘Girl Gang’, so be prepared for girls in gangs. An older couple a few rows in front left half-way through the film during the second (and last) brawl scene. Who would’ve thought a film about a gang would feature a brawl? Wowzers. MAKE INFORMED MOVIE CHOICES, PEOPLE!

Rockin' the hoodie.
Rockin’ the hoodie.
Marieme (Karidja Touré) lives in the slums outside Paris, with her often absent mother, abusive older brother, and two younger sisters.  She’s flunking high school, and her prospects are grim. She befriends a group of three rebellious teenagers, led by the so-called ‘Lady’, and soon she’s smoking, stealing, and using her newfound power to intimidate others. Together they make up a group of girls who have genuine affection for one another, but who scare the shit out of anyone else who gets in their way. Anyone who has ever seen a group of nasty girls on public transport will recognise them in these characters. But they probably wouldn’t ever willingly hurt anybody. It’s all about the image.

Girls just wanna have fun.
Girls just wanna have fun.
Girlhood is director and screenwriter Céline Sciamma’s most recent film since she wrote and directed Tomboy in 2011, a powerful and compelling film about a ten-year old transgender boy. She impresses yet again with Girlhood, invoking feelings of empathy, fear, and dismay for her leading characters. Marieme and her friends are largely victims of circumstance, and what is apparent is that education is the key to escape. The film’s score and cinematography capture the rough vibe of this darker side of French society, as well as the sense of excitement involved in coming of age. The lighter moments remain tinged with a dark edge, but there is still beauty in these girls’ interactions with one another, including a memorable lip-sync to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’. Sciamma has assembled a cast of non-actors, and though there are occasional instances where their lack of acting experience shows, this choice results in a realistic portrayal of youth. Karidja Touré successfully conveys the full gamut of emotions involved in adolescent experience, and her physical transformation from beginning to end is extraordinary.

Karidja Touré
Karidja Touré
To the old gits in the audience who walked out half-way through: you’ve clearly never seen the lower class depicted on screen. This didn’t come close to a disturbing film – it was way tamer than it threatened to be, and it has nothing on Larry Clark’s Kids. Here’s hoping they don’t make the same mistake and go to the upcoming The Diary of a Teenage Girl expecting a sweet story about proper and polite girls, because it’s a film almost wholly about statutory rape. Read a blurb, watch a trailer, and make the right choice. For those interested in seeing a portrayal of life outside their own bubble, Girlhood is a compelling watch.

4 stars

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