Star – Karidja Toure
Genre – World Cinema
Run Time – 113 minutes
Certificate – 18
Country – France
Awards – 11 Wins & 21 Nominations
Amazon – £5.99 DVD £8.99 Blue Ray
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10 young black men have been shot and stabbed to death on the streets of London in the last two weeks. We presume they were killed by likewise. The reduction of stop and search for politically correct reasons has let the gangs take back the East and West London streets. The black and Asian communities rail against racial profiling for stop and search and won’t accept the police do it to stem the murders and street robberies. It’s the same in most world cities where there are marginalized black communities, Paris, the location for Girlhood, no different. But for white Britain and France it’s very much out of sight, out of mind.
Girlhood is from white French female director Céline Sciamma', she of the rather good movies Water Lilly’s and Tomboy, like Girlhood, films about the fluidity of gender and sexual identity among girls during this formative period and a trilogy of sort in the directors mind. Considering those topics, as you would expect she is gay, and in a relationship with a younger actress she met on Water Lilly’s. Middle class people write and direct what they know but also how they think it should be for other people.
Scimma’s motivation for Girlhood was seeing groups of black girls hanging out in the stations and shopping malls wearing black lather jackets underneath their almost comical hair extensions and wigs. For authenticity she cast actresses scouted on the same Paris streets and projects. The biggest snag in the movie was trying to secure the songs ‘Diamonds’ from Riahanna, who they begged and begged to use hr song. When Riahanna saw the final scene it was used for she loved it and said yes. It’s a beautiful scene and makes the movie.
• Karidja Touré as Marieme / Vic
• Assa Sylla as Lady
• Lindsay Karamoh as Adiatou
• Mariétou Touré as Fily
• Idrissa Diabaté as Ismaël
• Simina Soumare as Bébé
• Cyril Mendy as Djibril
• Djibril Gueye as Abou
• Binta Diop as Asma
• Chance N'Guessan as Mini
• Rabah Nait Oufella as Kader
• Damien Chapelle as Cédric
• Nina Melo as Caidy
• Elyes Sabyani as Abdel
• Halem El Sabagh as Farida
16-year-old African-French teenager Marieme (Karidja Touré) lives in a poor Paris suburb, rare beauty amongst ugly grey tower blocks and nagging poverty. At school she struggles, which forces her into a vocational track where she will learn a certain trade. Due to her mother's demanding work schedule as a cleaner, Marieme's abusive brother Djibril (Cyril Mendy) is in charge at the flat. On her way out of school on day, the day she found out about her sentence at vocational school, she is approached by a gang of girls, Lady (Assa Sylla) who is the leader, followers Fily (Marietou Toure) and Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh), who ask Marieme if she wants to join them for a day trip to the city centre. They are sexy in macho gum chewing way and wear leather jackets, gold jewelry, and have pin straight hair wigs. Marieme initially declines but after seeing the girls approached by a group of boys, including her brother's friend, Ismael (Idrissa Diabate), whom she has a crush on, Marieme joins them.
The girls fight, shoplift and intimidate others as the bond grows between the four over the coming weeks. Marieme begins to act and dress just like Lady, Adiatou and Fily. But they have rival groups they must front up to keep their status. After a good days stealing and threatening they treat themselves to a hotel room in the city, wearing their stolen dresses, drinking booze, doing soft drugs and having a boogie.
Lady sets up a fight with a girl who is top dog of their rival group. Bad idea. She is not only beaten by the girl but humiliated as her shirt is torn off which is viewed as a disgrace on the block. Due to her loss, her father cuts all of her hair off and makes her keep her distance from the group. Marieme sees this is as her chance to prove herself to the gang.
I quite enjoyed this and not surprised it had early Oscar buzz. It’s one of those ethnic movies that don’t make the white audience feel too threatened by it because the poor remain in their box but enough hope and aspiration to suggest they can escape their poverty one day, what always gently lifts liberal guilt. Liberals are great at pleading with their governments to let in more asylum seekers and foreigners to make the right look guilty but not great at actually embracing them in their suburbs. A fifteen-year-old that turns out to be an olive skinned 30-year-old quickly drives down their house prices. We voted Brexit because the immigrants are always jammed into the poorer areas where work and housing is scarce in the voting demographic mostly like to vote Leave.
It’s filmed with urban style and a sensual undertone that the girls, like the director, are considering their sexuality at a young confused age, macho tomboyism always betrayed as lesbianism in the movies. The films appeal is the rare moments of emancipating joy the girls find and experience in the ghetto, a ruthless place to churn out more people like this to make this happen all over again. The scene where the girls dance to Riahanna in the hotel room in their expensive stolen dresses is one of the most uplifting I have seen in the poverty porn genre.
Subtitles not too bad and it’s well acted by the young kids and although the occasional flirting with ‘gangsta’ cliché on screen it has a rhythm and place of its own. It would actually make a good music the way West Side Story did. When you expect violence it doesn’t happen and when you expect that cliché it doesn’t happen either. I enjoyed that side of it to. The crime is there but it’s less a threat but treated more of a job to the almost likable inhabitants of the projects. There is humor and there is romance to but all the time you feel it’s about the look and heart of the film that is getting to you. You feel sorry for the girls but you also don’t blame them. The soundtrack is also spot-on and the opening scene of the girls playing American football to pumping Europop under the cool autumn night sky really grips you and a hint to this films potential and originality.
Imdb.com – 6.9 /10.0 (5.305 votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 96 % critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – % critic’s approval
New Statesman –‘The film is about Marieme, and what happens to her, and perhaps, too, it's about seeing life in the projects for what it is: a milieu of mingling stories, some happy, some sad, and all shot through with moments of joy’.
Sight & Sound –‘This is no quietly incremental coming-of-age narrative, but a brash, at times distressing series of snapshots of the life of undereducated black working-class girls on the bottom rung of every social and economic ladder’.
Daily Telegraph –‘I was somehow watching my own teenage struggles and triumphs play out on the screen. The fact I'm not - nor have ever been - French, female or black didn't seem to come into it’.
Independent –‘Céline Sciamma's girl-gang movie is a disarming affair, a long way removed from the macho posturing of other French films set in the Banlieue, such as La Haine’.
BBC Film –‘Symptomatic of the national picture, Girlhood is an unflinching portrait into the seething cauldron of interminable chaos created by the fractured social structures in contemporary Paris’
SF Weekly –‘[Marieme] has a long road into the seemingly inescapable marginalization of poor young black women ahead of her. But Girlhood offers some hope that the fleeting moments remain’.
The Mail –‘More in common with the French New Wave than Italian neorealist, this is a film that both celebrates and sheds tears over gangsta life. It is the French version of "New Jack City" in some ways’.