"For a group with little to no acting experience between them, they take to the scenes and characters like ducks to water"
Over the last ten years we have seen more and more films that focus on life in the poorer ends of a city. The struggles, hopelessness and gang culture that are a frequent product of poverty are increasingly a source of inspiration for film writers. It is, however, unusual to find such a film almost entirely populated by women, from their perspective.
“Girlhood” does just that.
Battered from all angles of her life, from her frustrating and hopeless educational prospects to her oppressive and controlling older brother, Marieme finds solace in a group of rebellious girls. As their friendship grows, they support each other through power struggles, romance and family issues. Marieme must eventually find her own way and escape from a life that cannot satisfy her.
Writer and director Céline Sciamma has stated that she did not want to make a film where the audience peers through the looking glass at a world seemingly removed from our own. There is a danger, especially when writing a story that is not a life the writer themselves have lived, to delve into an almost nature documentary-like quality, poking into the forest and observing with wonder the creatures that emerge. Sciamma has avoided this trap, instead writing characters we all know and recognise, in a story trenched in reality and humanity. It is, in essence, a classic coming-of-age story in a modern setting.
Some of the key themes of this film are sorority and empowerment, something which is largely embodied by the central friendship group. Marieme (Karidja Touré), Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Mariétou Touré) share an almost instant bond. Drawn together by their frustrations at life, they constantly shake it off and lift each other up by creating their own little world of fun and frivolity. This is one of the joys of the film. With so many intense and difficult scenes, it would be easy to descend into an all encompassing doom and gloom. However, the scenes between the girls are a pleasant release, often filled with joy and hilarity.
The actresses themselves do a fantastic job. For a group with little to no acting experience between them, they take to the scenes and characters like ducks to water. Their chemistry and energy is palpable and every character is one easily recognisable. These are girls you went to school with, girls you lived next door to, each steeped in complex layers and realism that even the most seasoned actress can struggle to convey at times. Karidja, Assa, Lindsay and Mariétou make it look easy.
Of course the stand out star of the whole film has to be our lead, Karidja Touré. She gives a performance that is so convincingly heartbreaking that I was genuinely surprised on meeting her a few weeks later and discovering that she is in fact an incredibly chirpy, carefree individual. She possesses giant eyes that seem to convey a million emotions in just one glance and a presence that holds the screen with the expertise of a seasoned professional.
“Girlhood” is a refreshing break from many of the blockbusters that saturate the cinemas. On top of this, it takes a world that is often represented in film but turns it on its head by looking at it from a completely different viewpoint. It expertly avoids following the clichés of the genre, often setting the audience up to expect a generic outcome then twisting into something completely unexpected. The final scene is particularly powerful, frustratingly yet appropriately open ended. A must see.