Out of the foreign language films being released at the moment, one of the ones that has been getting a lot of attention has been Girlhood. With a title done to capitalise on the success of Boyhood, you’d be forgiven for thinking you would be getting something similar, this film couldn’t be further from Boyhood and is more along the lines of La Haine and Kes than Boyhood.
The plot follows Mariame, a black teenage girl living in the deprived suburbs of Paris. After being told that she hasn’t achieved the grades to get into high school, she meets a girl gang (Lady, Fily and Adiatou) and, after some initial difficulties, becomes firm friends with them. As the film goes on, we see the homelife of Mariame, worrying about her younger sister following in her footsteps, dealing with an abusive brother and her fears that she will end up being a cleaner like her mum. This film does not sugarcoat the conditions that the people living in these deprived areas go through, violence and drugs are everyday occurrences, the girls frequently steal to get enough money to go into the centre of Paris for shopping and racial profiling is pretty common, with Mariame being followed around by a shop assistant due to the fear that Mariame will steal something. We see the girls committing quite a few crimes throughout the film, stealing from other people and from shops and taking part in fights, with the losers being humiliated by having their tops taken off and video of it being posted on YouTube. In any other film we would be asked to root against this behaviour but we know that the girls could be in a lot worse trouble and that this type of activity comes from growing up around gangs and having no other outlet available to them to express themselves.
There is one thing this film needed to do correctly in order to work, that being the friendship between the girls. If this was done badly then the entire film would fall apart. Thankfully, writer/director Celine Sciamma nails this, both with the writing for their scenes and the excellent performances she gets from the cast, none of whom had acting experience prior to this film. Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh and Marietou Toure have excellent chemistry with each other with their friendship being really believable. The way they act around each other suggests that they’ve known each other for years and there are very subtle quirks in each of the performances to show their character traits. The scene that really highlights the friendship is when the girls are in a hotel room in the centre of Paris and are singing along to Diamonds by Rihanna. The way this scene is shot and the way the girls interact with each other shows the closeness of the characters better than any other scene in the film, whilst also showing its lack of judgement since the dresses the characters are wearing are stolen, with the security tags still on them. Out of the four though, Toure is the highlight. Throughout the film, she shows how the group is bringing out the best of her, encouraging her to step out of her shell, and the worst in her, her violent tendencies, presenting a very morally ambiguous message regarding the merits of the group and doesn’t provide any judgement. She also presents a great deal of fear, fear that she’ll end up following her mum and become a cleaner; fear of her brother Djibril, played to terrifying effect by Cyril Mendy, and that she won’t be able to protect her family from him; fear of what will happen regarding her relationship with Ismael (a friend of her brother, played brilliantly by Idrissa Diabare) and fear of what will happen to her with the gangs in the area due to her gender, with this being especially prominent in the final act of the film with the introduction of gang leader Abou, played to quite chilling effect by Djibril Gueve. All of these fears and doubts come together brilliantly in the ending, which is a perfect piece of acting from Toure.
Overall, Girlhood will probably end up being one of the best foreign language films of the year. The brilliant, non-judgmental and naturalistic script and direction from Celine Sciamma and the excellent performances, in particular from Karidja Toure creates a very realistic portrayal of life for black teenagers living in the Paris suburbs and one of the most compelling films of the year.
My Rating: 5/5