Another Shade of Adolescence

wpid-imag0782.jpgA few hours after my Cumberbatch experience, I hurried to the theatre for my next film, a feature from France called Girlhood (Bande des filles).

It’s the third feature film from screenwriter/director Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies and Tomboy), and was shown at Cannes in May.

Girlhood takes a look at life for teenage girls in the rough banlieues which surround Paris, through the eyes of Mariame, a shy sixteen-year-old who looks out for her younger sisters, but steers clear of her older brother Djibril – who’s a bit of a bully – and does as best she can.

Things change when Mariame is told she can’t go to high school because she doesn’t have the grades, and should enrol in vocational school instead. Angry over the hand she’s dealt, she rebels and falls in with a girl gang, who spend their days living by their own rules and pushing limits.

But it’s while spending time with her newfound band of sisters — Lady, the ringleader; Adiatou; and Fily — that Mariame decides to buck the system she’s supposed to follow, and define herself by her own code.

Whew.

I really, really liked this movie, in that it was so starkly different from anything I’ve seen – not just at this film festival, but even last year’s.

But where to begin? There is so much that came at me at once … perhaps I’ve missed things, or read too much into aspects of the film. But here’s what I came away with:

First, there are the obvious things that remind the characters – and illustrate to us – that they are  “the other”, not fully accepted because they live on these fringes created by society.

It’s in the interaction Mariame has with a white shopgirl, who follows her from rack to rack until her new friends surround the shopgirl and call her out on her behaviour. It’s in a scene on the metro, where you see the girls carry on and dance and enjoy each other’s company, the white commuters surrounding them out of focus, and in the background. It’s in the scene where Mariame works a shift at the hotel where her mother works as a cleaner.

But then, there’s this lingering, irritating sense that, in their world, they are only ever in ownership of their own bodies, comfortable in their own skin, when they’re around each other.  Outside of that — and this is true for Mariame, for most of the film — there’s this sense they’re a bit on guard, aware of themselves in the presence of boys and men.

But it’s not a completely heavy movie. There are funny moments, and other scenes in the movie – that serve to remind us viewers that, hey, these are teenagers trying to deal with, and enjoy, these moments in their lives as best as they can.

There’s more to say, but at the risk of giving away the rest of the plot, I’m going to stop here. If you consider seeing it, I’d rather have you make up your own minds.

(If you really want a proper review to read, check out this Hollywood Reporter write-up from mid-May.)

wpid-imag0780.jpgKaridja Touré is the actress who portrays the title role of Mariame.

As we found out in the brief discussion following the screening, this was her first movie role. But, man, is she ever arresting in each frame of this film.

You see her transformation, not only in the way she dresses, but in the way she carries herself and moves across the screen. And the actresses who portray the girl gang she falls in with, are great as well.

I absolutely recommend seeing this movie, whether it’s in limited release, or if it’s later released on DVD.

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