MSPIFF 2015 Review: GIRLHOOD (Bande de Filles)

MSPIFF15reviewsGirlhoodPosterOne of my favorite things about film festivals is that you get to see indie gems like Girlhood that you otherwise wouldn’t even find. It’s especially gratifying to see a female-centric drama that’s written AND directed by a female filmmaker, Céline Sciamma.

Girlhood or Bande de Filles (Gang of Girls) is primarily centered on a 16-year-old girl Marime. Abused by her brutish older brother, with dead-end school prospects and the boys law in the neighborhood, Marieme starts a new life after meeting a group of 3 free-spirited girls. She changes her name, her dress code, and quits school to be accepted in the gang, hoping that this will be a way to freedom.

At a glance, it seems like a gritty drama about a gang of girls set in a low-income suburbs of Paris. We see the girls involve in what you’d expect a street gang would do — mugging, stealing, smoking pot, street fighting, etc. There’s a certain realism to the way these scenes play out and the mostly unknown actresses are believable in their roles. Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Mariétou Touré played the roles of Lady, Adiatou and Fily, respectively.

Girlhood_still2Karidja Touré is mesmerizing as Marime. I could feel her pain and somehow identify her pain despite our lives being so completely different. But y’know what, we can all relate as a human being… I was young once and there were points in my life where I wanted to feel like I belong, that I am loved… and more importantly, that I have the freedom to do what I want without fear. Even as an adult we often face a crossroad where the path isn’t immediately clear. And for someone with such limited options like Marime, that conflict is surely amplified. The way the film portrayed Marime made it so easy for me to connect with her journey to find her place in the world.

There are so many memorable scenes in the film, such as when Marime first approached the three girls and later taking the train to Paris with them. There’s also the time ‘Lady’ the gang leader first gave Marime the ‘Vic’ necklace. It’s as if she’s now an *official* member with her new name — Vic for victory. Slowly the girls took her in and the bond between them felt real to me.

Girlhood_still3My all time favorite scene, which I immediately rewound right after it’s over, is the moment when the girls are all dressed up in their rented hotel room. Sciamma filmed the scene like a music video where the girls started dancing and lip-syncing to Rihanna’s Diamond. There’s something so vibrant, effervescent vibe about that whole scene, yet poignantly moving. Marime was watching her friends first, but then joined in. It literally made me smile AND cry at the same time, and instantly I thought of my own *gang* of friends in high school who helped me through my pain of losing my late mother.

As Marime became ‘Vic’, naturally she’s started to give in to the rebellious nature that every teen has within. As she gains more confidence, the more vicious she’s become and does things she probably never thought she’d do. The film isn’t afraid of quiet moments where it’s just Marime alone with her thoughts, yet her expression conveys so much. Another thing I love about the film is how it doesn’t resort to stereotypes or oversimplifications. For one thing, not all the guys in Marime’s lives are evil, in fact, the heart-to-heart talk she has with her boyfriend is genuinely heartfelt.

Girlhood is Céline Sciamma‘s third feature, and she’s no stranger to the world of adolescence as her first two films deal with that world. Naturally stories of ‘growing up’ is an emotional mine and the French director has such a keen eye to explore the intricate aspect of youth in such a fascinating way. I also love the fact that despite the difficult and dark issues of the story, the film isn’t bleak and depressing. I laughed, cried, and cheered from start to finish, all the way to the gratifyingly-emotional finale. It’s not the kind of ending tied neatly in a pretty bow, but that’s exactly how I wanted it to end. There’s such power in that last shot of Marime.


Visually speaking, I love the stylish cinematography and moody colors. It’s an ear-candy as well with electric pop soundtrack filled with awesome songs! I can’t recommend this film enough, folks. I don’t know if this film is eligible for a Best Foreign Language Oscar but if it did, I’d definitely be rooting for it! It’s amazing that this is Karidja Touré‘s debut role as she has such a screen presence. I can’t wait to see what she’d tackle next. I’ll be on the lookout for Sciamma‘s next project as well.


Has anyone seen GIRLHOOD? Would love to hear your thoughts!

39 thoughts on “MSPIFF 2015 Review: GIRLHOOD (Bande de Filles)

  1. Thanks for this very interesting post, Ruth. I much regret to say, this one got by me…I will have to catch up soon as you don’t often rate something quite so high.

    1. Oh you mean you almost see it at some point, Paula? It’s REALLY good and it was emotionally-gratifying to me. It’s actually more of a 4.75 out 5 for me, soooo good!

    1. Hi Margaret!! Oh it’s REALLY as good as the reviews’ been saying. I still haven’t seen Boyhood but I am convinced this is EONS better and far more emotional than that one, and of course this will get overlooked come Oscar 😦

    1. Seems that Céline Sciamma has a keen sense about adolescence life. This one isn’t so much about sexual discovery like her previous two films, but more about friendship and the protagonist sorting out what she wants to be. It’s really compelling and I find myself identifying so much w/ Marime.

  2. Tom

    Wow. 4.5 eh? This has also moved higher on my list. Although it’s gonna be a tough one to track down. Other reviews I’ve read have also been singing its praises. Great work Ruth.

    1. Yes Tom, and I probably could’ve gone w/ 4.75! I’m hoping it’ll be available to rent soon, it’d be a shame that films like this got overlooked!

  3. So glad you like this one Ruth! I love that scene in the hotel room too. The film does a great job of exploring female rights of passage and the role music plays in that is just beautiful. I can’t wait for this to get a release here so I can see it again. Quite possibly my favourite film of the year!

    1. Awesome that you’ve seen this one Natalie! I find myself identifying so much w/ Marime, even though our lives are quite different. Yes it’s definitely my top 3 faves of the year so far, together w/ Ex Machina and Clouds of Sils Maria!

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  5. Excellent review, Ruth. I will rent this –looks great! Coming-of-age films usually spotlight boys, don’t they? My 20-something daughter spends a lot of energy looking for Mister Perfect. Just yesterday I told her, “A man isn’t going to get you through life, it’ll be your girlfriends who stick with you and all your flaws.”

    1. You’re so right Cindy! Why only the boys get the coming-of-age tale treatment, when girls probably have it tougher. This one is so emotionally moving, really, any woman of all background, age + race can relate. I LOVE what you said to your daughter and that is so true!! You are such a wise mom, she’s lucky to have you!

    1. Hi Shane! Yes it’s REALLY good, I was surprised by how much I identified w/ Marime and her personal journey. So many things worked in this film, it’s definitely one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve seen in a long time.

    1. I haven’t seen Boyhood but this is so different from that film and I’d even bet it’s much better and more emotionally-gratifying.

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