Eye For Film >> Movies >> Californie (2021) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Directors Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kaufmann put their background in documentary to go use in this verite style character study which closely observes both the physical and psychological changes of its child protagonist Jamila (Khadija Jaafari) over the course of the five years during which the film was shot. As with Celine Sciamma's Girlhood, we can feel her sense of identity bend and flex as the youngster makes her way in an often indifferent world.
Jaafari is remarkably natural in the central role, a testimony no doubt to the work the directors put in with her before making the film. The youngster, making her fiction debut here, came into the filmmakers' orbit when they were shooting boxing doc Butterfly and she is first glimpsed at age nine as she dreams of a boxing career, the initial portion of the film recalling last year's documentary Lift Like A Girl in its celebration of young determination. The child of Moroccan emigres, Jamilla father is barely glimpsed while her mother works long hours, so that she's closest to her eldest sister, despite their sometimes fractious relationship. The directors don't labour her struggles to fit in as a child suddenly thrust into a foreign culture, although we can see that she is marked out by some in her class as 'different' - a scene in which she speaks French with a better accent than her teacher just one example of how she is casually discriminated against in her new setting.
The film indicates her age at the start of its chapters and by the time she is 11, she's taken her fighting spirit out of the gym - although she still likes to use the shower there - and into her everyday life. "I want something, I get it," she says, in many ways an admirable attitude but also, something of a double-edged sword as we see how Jamila is sometimes her own worst enemy, so determined to do things her way that she knocks back the hand of friendship when it comes her way. Although the film is firmly focused on its young protagonist there is plenty of societal comment being offered along the way, not least about the way that Jamila takes jobs at 13, when she could be in school, helping at a hairdressers - the misspelled Californie of the film's title - where, though the boss is broadly supportive, she's also casually exploitative of her young employee along the way. Nothing Jamilla does comes without maximum effort, not even a ride on her much-loved scooter, which she has to pedal as well.
Cassigoli and Kaufmann avoid major plot turns in favour of the more believable everyday things that many teenagers on the fringes encounter. The desire to make money in order to take control of her life, is an almost constant driver for Jamilla, who is always on the lookout for her next hustle but she also contends with the first potential thrill of first romance and the gradual realisation that her actions can have consequences. "There's a crack in everything, but that's where the light shines through," Jamilla tells her boss when the California sign arrives misspelt. Jamilla's life shows that no matter how many cracks she gets, she refuses to be broken, merely finding ways to shine on more determinedly instead. While her final destination may be subject to change, her momentum towards it never slackens for a minute.Reviewed on: 06 Sep 2021
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