When an adolescent girl learns her future will be limited once she flunks out of school, she joins a gang that alters her perspective about herself – but will this re-invented young woman wind up wandering down the wrong path or can she figure out a way to lead a more productive life?
As a 16 year-old trying to grow up in a Paris suburb, Marieme (Karidja Touré) doesn’t have things easy; the second of four children, she has to take care of her two younger sisters when their mother goes off to work as an office cleaning woman at night. Add to that her contentious relationship with her older brother, and life at home can tend to be difficult to say the least. To make matters worse, she’s just learned that she’ll be forced to leave school due to bad grades; uninterested in attending a vocational school, she sees her future as a cleaning woman alongside her mother as her only option.
Wandering through her neighborhood, Marieme meets a gang of three tough girls who offer to let her join her group. Once a member, she soon learns they have an attitude and view of the world much different from her own. As they befriend her, Marieme begins to transform; once quiet and shy, she is now more self-confident and outgoing – almost to the point of being overtly aggressive in her dealings with people, especially strangers. Marieme develops a hardness about her that she sees as a way of dealing with an unfriendly and uncaring world.
But there are other things that have Marieme’s interest. Ismaël (Idrissa Diabaté), a close friend of her brother, has caught her eye; a mutual attraction develops when they spend time together after “accidentally” running into each other from time to time. Eventually, they embark on something of a romantic relationship – but when Marieme’s brother learns of their tryst, he becomes angry and violent towards his younger sister. This results in Marieme running away from home. Unable to support herself, she accepts a job offer from a man who has her assist him in his drug peddling business. But will Marieme be able to continue along this career path destined for certain tragedy or will she have to accept Ismaël’s proposal of marriage and relinquish her independence and freedom?
Although some may think that this movie’s release is a knee-jerk response to capitalize on the success of “Boyhood”, nothing could be further from the truth. The only way that it is similar is that it is ambitious filmmaking – but in a vastly different way. What is particularly poignant about “Girlhood” – although again, this may have been yet another accident in timing – is its inevitable comparison with the brutal Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris only a few weeks ago. Based on what we understand about the perpetrators, they were French Moroccans who took an unfortunate path in their life because they were unable to overcome certain socio-economic challenges in their society. Likewise, a similar fate may befall the character of Marieme for the same reason.
While “Girlhood” is certainly worthy of recommendation, there are some technical issues with the directing style which were somewhat disconcerting. The foremost has to do with the manner in which the director chose to end certain scenes. Specifically, she decided to fade – or more likely cut – to black and spend several seconds playing music used to end the previous scene; psychologically, this fools the viewer to incorrectly think that we have reached the conclusion of the film and that the credits are about to roll. In fact, this technique is used as a transition from one scene to another, causing a bit of confusion and momentarily taking you out of the movie.
Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with the writer-director of “Girlhood”, Céline Sciamma. This was her third feature film and from the sounds of it, the director seems to consider this the final installment in her trilogy about growing up in the modern world. There is a scene in the movie where the girls lip synch to Rihanna’s hit song “Diamonds”; Sciamma said she was concerned that she would not be able to secure the rights to use that song in the motion picture, however, after the recording company saw the scene in which the song was featured, they came up with a reasonable financial offer that the filmmakers found would fit well within their budget. Sciamma talked about the inevitable comparison with “Boyhood” and insisted she did not pick “Girlhood” as the title to merely piggyback on the success of the multiple-award-nominated film; the original French title translated into something like “Bunch Of Girls”, which she didn’t believe would work well in English-speaking markets. Sciamma said that she changed it to “Girlhood” partly as a play on words – the “hood” portion of the word referencing the neighborhood which the protagonist inhabited.