Girlhood

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Girlhood
"Transformation is coming, although as with Sciamma's previous films this is not a simple, one-way manoeuvre, completed in double-quick time"

Céline Sciamma has already proved herself adept at exploring the nature of the female prepubescent and teenage experience in Water Lilies and Tomboy. But though there are strong thematic links to her previous work, concerning identity and self-determination, this is not simply a retread of old ground, as her focus shifts to encompass a markedly different world and childhood experience.

Tomboy and Water Lilies were mostly preoccupied with French caucasian kids, but here, Sciamma considers the specific challenges that are part of the experience of youngsters from the French-African community. We often see stories of young men coming of age in these sort of working class areas - and the affect of patriarchy on the women's experiences is exposed here - but this is all about the ways in which the strength of 'sisterhood' by blood and water is crucial to the central character's sense of self.

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Themes of aggression, bonding and staying tough that repeat through the film are neatly encapsulated in an opening scene of a girls American football team squaring off.

Among the players is Marieme (Karidja Touré), a teenager whose family live in the high-rise schemes of suburban Paris. This is her story - or rather it is her the story of her multiple possibilities, as she tries on various identities for size. Through the course of the film, we will see how her life has been shaped. When we meet her, she is the Marieme molded by her family experience, particularly by her elder brother who is more of an oppressive presence than a physical character, his sense of threat lingering in the room like bad eau de cologne long after he has left. The way Marieme holds her younger sister's outstretched hand as they settle down to sleep tells you as much about his affect on them as any act of violence.

Transformation is coming, although as with Sciamma's previous films this is not a simple, one-way manoeuvre, completed in double-quick time. We see, first, how Marieme falls in with a gang of girls (the film's French title is Bande Des Filles), later how she tries to butch her way into the male world of drug mules before finally embarking on her own path to self-determination.

Throughout, the gang sisterhood offer the strongest lifeline, as her embrace of them sees her adopt not only a new-found confidence and fashion style but a new name - Vic. Sciamma isn't interested in holding the girls up for judgement. They shoplift and catfight with other gangs and Sciamma shows that their lifestyle choices can lead to everything from violence to pregnancy.

Despte this, there is no doubting they are there for one another, a line of support in a society when girls on their own from this sort of working class background are always destined to come last - and it is through the group dynamic that they find a route to individualism. When we see them dressed to the nines in stolen clothes - the store shoplift tags still hanging from them - it is not to go out an impress men. Instead, they have hired a hotel room where they can laugh and dance in a bubble away from societal expectation. As they mime the words to Rhianna imploring one another to "shine bright like a diamond", we can see that, in all their facets and for all their flaws, they do.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2015
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Oppressed by her family setting, dead-end school prospects and the boys law in the neighborhood, Marieme starts a new life after meeting a group of free-spirited girls.
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Director: Céline Sciamma

Writer: Céline Sciamma

Starring: Diabate Idrissa, Rabah Nait Oufella, Tatiana Rojo, Karidja Touré

Year: 2014

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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