Runtime: 113 minutes
Writer/Director: Céline Sciamma
Stars: Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh
By Nicole Ackman
In honor of Céline Sciamma’s birthday earlier in November, I decided to take a look back at her film “Girlhood.” The French coming-of-age drama, both written and directed by Sciamma, was released in 2014. It’s interesting to reflect on Sciamma’s previous films after the success of her “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” last year amongst critics and film fans. While many saw “Portrait” after seeing Sciamma’s other work, I had the opposite experience and this was a first time viewing for me.
“Girlhood” is a story about Marieme (Karidja Touré), a young black girl who lives in a poor suburb of Paris. She helps her single mother with her younger siblings and tries to keep her head down. One day, she is approached by three girls who wear matching jackets, gold jewelry, and straight hair who invite her to join their friend group. After seeing the attention they receive from boys, including the friend of her brother’s that she has a crush on, Marieme agrees to join them.
Marieme, or Vic as she is later nicknamed by the girls, is a fascinating main character. She is gentle and kind with her younger sisters, but largely sullen and quiet before meeting the other girls. She struggles in school and is dismayed at being told she will have to attend vocational school instead of continuing onto high school. She also has to contend with her controlling and abusive older brother. However, her friendship with the girls and the fashion transformation she undergoes causes her to blossom. Eventually, she shows herself to be a strong and independent young woman. Touré is a fantastic lead actress, able to portray each facet of her personality equally well and give her plenty of depth.
“At first, it seems like “Girlhood” couldn’t be further from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” a period drama about a female artist and a wealthy young woman who fall in love. But on a deeper level, both films examine the intense bonds formed between girls.”
Sciamma has stated that in making this film, she wanted to represent the black teenage girls that are often left out of French films and that she saw living in Paris. The film explores themes of race, gender, and class in sensitive and genuine ways. For example, in one scene Marieme is followed around in a store by the white employee before her new friends confront her. It’s also remarkable to see a film whose main cast is largely composed of young black girls.
At first, it seems like “Girlhood” couldn’t be further from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” a period drama about a female artist and a wealthy young woman who fall in love. But on a deeper level, both films examine the intense bonds formed between girls. One of the most interesting things about “Girlhood” is the juxtaposition of the support and camaraderie between the friends and their fights and aggression with other gangs of girls. While they get into physical fights with other groups, one of the most memorable scenes in the film is Marieme’s group of friends dancing around a hotel room to Rihanna’s “Diamond.”
The use of music in the film, both its soundtrack and score, is very well done and the cinematography also stands out. “Girlhood” is a very unique film that gives the viewer much to reflect on about the experiences of young black girls in Paris. One thing is certain from watching it: Sciamma is a great director who is always able to tease fantastic performances out of her cast and who has that special something that elevates every film she makes.