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.

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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.

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