Triumphant French coming-of-ager that takes a sympathetic look at a troubled teen
Exuberant and insightful, Girlhood — originally titled Bande de filles in France — neatly captures the young female experience, which writer-director Céline Sciamma has made her focus through Water Lilies, Tomboy and now this, her electrifying third feature. They are all about what it feels like to be a girl, and working out who you are.
Sciamma held open casting for the non-professionals who play this out in near-exclusively black Parisian suburban estates. And what discoveries they prove to be: compelling, natural and, in the case of Karidja Touré, on screen in every scene as 16-year-old protagonist Marieme, an exceptionally charismatic presence.
Marieme has a largely absent mother working all hours, two younger sisters in her charge, and a thug older brother who abuses and terrorises the girls. She’s also reached a dead-end at school, her only option a vocational course. Oppressed and aggrieved, she falls under the spell of three tough girls with ‘tude, led by Assa Sylla’s wonderfully sassy 'Lady'; joining the brash girl gang on defiant escapades gives Marieme a taste of friendship, freedom, fun and hope for a future of her own choosing.
The lives of all the girls are eloquently, intuitively summed up in a series of telling sequences, from an early moment where chattering, happy girls fall silent on entering an estate where clusters of boys stare at them, intimidating them and sizing them up. Most unforgettable is a joyous, touching, passionately girlie scene as the fierce foursome sing and dance to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’.
The energy does flag in the final stretch and Sciamma doesn’t seem to know how to say goodbye. Eventually she finds a perfect parting shot, one that beautifully caps a film as powerful as it is entertaining.
Selected release from Fri 8 May.