I’ve finally bore witness to Celine Sciamma’s “Girlhood”/”Bande de Filles”, which has been on my mind ever since its release last year. Since then, the film and its director has won awards for Best Cinematography and Best Film, as well as a Special Jury Prize at the 2014 Philadelphia Film Festival and a TVE Another Look Award at the 2014 San Sebastian International Film Festival. “Girlhood”, currently boasting a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is a film that kicked me in the gut straight from its opening scene. The image of young women playing football, which, the last time I checked, is more of a popular sport in America versus France, sets up the score for the rest of the film. Empowered, raw, wild, and free, these group of French girls are looking for something bigger than themselves and the lives that they were born into. The majority of them, including the lead actresses, are also Black, which, as The Independent illustrates, “immediately caused a stir in the French media“. “I was shocked by how Black people were never on screen [in France]…very, very few- even in TV…There are no black actresses famous in France,” Sciamma further expressed. Truth. But, I’m hoping that was “Blue is the Warmest Color” did for Adele Exarchopoulos’ acting career will do the same for Karidja Toure and her fellow castmates, who were splendid as the girl gang of “Girlhood”.
Director Celina Sciamma’s forte is the coming-of-age movie, which is the forte of another movie director whose art I also admire, the late John Hughes. Both highlight the universal angst and everyday reality of children and young adults figuring out themselves while navigating the world around them. Yet, unlike “Pretty in Pink” or “The Breakfast Club’, Sciamma’s “Girlhood” woke up feelings in me that are all too familiar. I’ve never been in a gang, where the premise to survive and boost popularity hinges on physical fights for World Star Hip Hop consumption. I’ve never dropped out of school. But I know what it feels like to want to fit in, to want to feel accepted. Anyone that has gone through the growing pains of adolescence understands this feeling. This is why “Girlhood” wins, if you especially decide to look past race and gender, regardless of the name of the film. There is also a reason that the movie’s cinematography was praised- it’s wondrous! Scenes such as this one renew my faith in the power of film and why I am so passionate about it, even in our Netflix original series-obsessed world:
A vision of ecstasy indeed.
It’s painful to watch Marieme/Vic, “Girlhood’s” protagonist, maneuver life in a French housing project with a non-existent, overworked mother, an abusive brother, and no hope for a future as anything but a teen mom. I remember feeling a sense of relief mixed with apprehension during the moment she first meets new friends Lady, Adiatou, and Fily. You know where these relationships may end up going, but Marieme is in need of friends to lean on. So she go ahead with hew new life as “Vic” and you keep watching, hoping that things get better for all of the girls in “Girlhood”.
By the end of “Girlhood” you think you know how this story will play out. But, Sciamma and her band of girls refuse to give a satisfying finish. A visually fantastic and beautiful end, yes. But, like life, especially as a Black girl, the pains of growing up are not simple, easy, or clear. Still, they are more than worthy of being recognized.