Shines bright like a diamond.
August 14, 2015
Growing up is hard to do, many a movie tells us, but often that glimpse at youthful perils comes with the male experience in mind. Girlhood's name gives away the fact that that's not the case here; however, what it doesn't clearly convey is how intimate and organic its look at its titular state is. A mere female-skewed take on Richard Linklater's Boyhood, this isn't.
Sixteen-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré) lives life on the outskirts of Paris, with her future looking as bleak as her present. Choice, control and agency are sorely lacking in days overseen by her hotheaded older brother (Cyril Mendy), so when she sees a chance at freedom through some newfound pals, she takes it. Soon, she's flirting with teenage trouble alongside fast friends Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Marietou Touré), including all the usual fun of partying, shoplifting and drinking, as well as dances with even darker territory. That the movie's French-language moniker actually translates as 'gang of girls' gives an indication of the kind of existence Marieme embraces.
If such a coming-of-age tale sounds familiar, don't let the appearance of a well-worn plot temper your expectations. In her previous two films — Water Lilies and Tomboy — writer director Céline Sciamma came close to perfecting pictures of adolescence that not only felt genuine but also reached worlds away from the usual mainstream fare. In Girlhood, she achieves that feat.
As Marieme attempts to carve out her identity and cope with the path she has chosen, Sciamma is more concerned about expressing her mindset and reflecting how she sees the world than documenting her actions. Accordingly, as the film tackles maturity on the margins by showing the harshness of the situation but never wallowing in it, Girlhood becomes as complex a look at a girl becoming a woman as cinema has seen, and as simultaneously energetic and patient too.
It helps that newcomer Touré is the perfect vessel for the filmmaker to fill with age-appropriate angst, and then watch as the young actress paints a portrait of pubescent pain and problems on the screen. The remainder of the inexperienced cast also brings the same sense of authenticity, but the camera and the audience are always drawn to Touré as she works through Marieme's good and bad decisions.
Consequently, prepare for a ride through the reality — not the cinema fiction — of coming to terms with the ups and downs of life from the perspective of a teenage girl. Prepare to get Rihanna's 'Diamonds' stuck in your head, too, with the track setting the tone for one of the film's most memorable scenes. For a few glorious minutes, Marieme and her friends shimmy away to the song in a blue-lit hotel room, blissfully escaping their troubles. In the midst of this moving film, that's what you'll want to do as well.