Directed by: Céline Sciamma.
Written by: Céline Sciamma.
Starring: Karidja Touré (Marieme, alias Vic), Assa Sylla (Lady), Lindsay Karamoh (Adiatou), Mariétou Touré (Fily), Idrissa Diabaté (Ismaël), Simina Soumaré (Bébé), Dielika Coulibaly (Monica), Cyril Mendy (Djibril), Djibril Gueye (Abou).
Girlhood is another coming of age story – one that the English language distributors cannily market as an alternative to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, even if the French title would more accurately translate as Girl Gang, not Girlhood. Strangely though, the new English title is more accurate – as even if much of the movie is about a “Girl Gang”, its focus remains on one character throughout as she shifts and changes over the course of about a year or so. The movie is familiar in some respects, but works so well because of how closely it watches its main character, and treats her with respect. Like Boyhood, while the title suggests some all-encompassing portrait of adolescence, it’s really focused on one person and their specific journey.
The film stars Karidja Toure as Marieme – who is around 16, and growing up in the housing projects in Paris. She finds out early that her grades are bad, and she is being steered into vocational training – which she does not want. As the film begins, she is relatively shy and reserved – and as we glimpse her home life, we understand a little bit of why. She adores her younger sister, their mother is usually gone – working we suppose – and her brother is prone to violence – her every action supposedly reflects on him, and his status on the streets.
Marieme goes through the first of several changes when she meet Lady (Assa Sylla) and her friends – this foursome grows tight in a hurry. Marieme starts to come out of her shell a little bit – becomes more assertive with the boy she likes, and learns to have fun with the girls (the four of them dancing and lip synching to Rihanna’s Diamonds is a highlight). The foursome are a gang – they fight with rival girl gangs, although the threat of real, permanent violence is pretty much non-existent. The girls are cocky and confident – and assert themselves. All around them are examples of people they do not want to become – like in a fast food joint where they run into the person who used to be the fourth in Lady’s gang – until she got pregnant and had a child. But what does Marieme really want out of life? Even by the end, she doesn’t really know.
The first 90 minutes of the movie are excellent – an examination of what it means to be a young, black girl in France, who is treated with suspicion by those around you, forgotten about by society, and expected to live under certain rules that you never set for yourself. Toure has a remarkably expressive face, and throughout this 90 minutes, she charts every change in it with touching honesty and clarity. The last 30 minutes or so don’t work as well – and Marieme leaves her girl gang behind, for the more dangerous world of drugs, and changes twice more in that span – for reasons that never really become clear (particularly her switch to a more androgynous look, and hints that perhaps Marieme – or Lady – had feelings for the other that went beyond friendship.
Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, Girlhood is a never less than interesting movie about one girl’s coming of age – that confusing time when no one really knows who they are, and where they are going. Girlhood doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat package by the end – things could go very badly for Marieme after the film ends, or perhaps not. This is somewhat frustrating because it’s harder to see just what the movie is saying in that last act. Yet, I suppose, its ambiguity is better than beating you over the head with its message. The result is not a perfect film – but one that does stay with you.