GIRLHOOD – REVIEW (France/15A/112mins)
Directed by Celine Sciamma. Starring Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Marietou Toure, Idrissa Diabate, Simina Soumare, Cyril Mendy.
THE PLOT: One of the good 16-year-olds in her Parisian suburban neighbourhood, 16-year-old Marieme (Toure) is good to her little sisters, and slightly wary of their older brother, Djibril (Mendy) – the latter highly unlikely to approve of his sister’s growing flirtation with local boy Ismael (Diabate). Mum is generally busy with her night shift, so, Djibril brusquely rules the roost at home, Marieme finally tiring of the situation after she flunks high school. And that’s when she starts hanging out with a trio of girls keen to be seen as a gang. Led by Lady (Assa Sylla), Marieme finding acceptance, and excitement, as she becomes a certifiable, gang-approved bad girl…
THE VERDICT: Having played at the French Film Festival at the IFI earlier in the year, having been granted the honour of opening gala screening, GIRLHOOD is one of those teenage wildlife films that inspire column inches amongst the left-wing media and quite a lot of hyperbole on the festival circuit. Which, on paper, makes sense – acclaimed, rising young director (Sciamma previously gave us 2007’s WATER LILIES and 2011’s TOMBOY) taking a sensitive look at society’s underbelly; boom! There’s a Sight & Sound three-pager just waiting to happen. The fact that it’s a young black girl’s story, as she tries to fit in on the mean streets of a Paris suburb, gives GIRLHOOD an edge over your average teen opera.
All of which just makes me feel more than a little guilty for finding this a tad dull. And a tad boring. And a tad predictable.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne

Girlhood
Review by Paul Byrne
3.0A tad predictable
  • filmbuff2011

    The title Girlhood might suggest a spin-off of last year’s superb Boyhood. But no, it’s actually a French film, whose literal translation means Strip Girls. Girlhood undoubtedly sounds more appealing for the international market. It’s set among the French black community, where we first meet teenager Marieme (Karidja Toure). She’s 16 and is on the cusp of becoming a young woman. Unsure of herself and her direction in life, she joins a girl gang headed by Lady (Assa Sylla). Marieme becomes the fourth member and soon spends a lot of time hanging out with her new friends. She becomes more confident within and without – soon demanding money from other teenagers and taking more interest in boys. But all this tough, confident and independent new behaviour gets her noticed, particularly by her concerned older brother. Is she really tough and mature enough to deal with what’s ahead in her complicated life? That quote from David Bowie at the start of The Breakfast Club seems appropriate right now – ‘And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They are quite aware of what they are going through’. It’s an apt description for Marieme’s journey through this heart-felt, raw and really quite stunning depiction of teenage life on the margins. Credit has to be given to Toure, who carries the weight of the film on her young shoulders. She’s got immediate presence and the sense of an old soul in a young body. It’s an eye-catching performance that will certainly mark her out as a name to watch. Credit also to 34-year-old director Celine Sciamma. In only her third feature, she’s made a film that actually feels like it understands its teenage characters on a relatable ground level. There’s no cop-out in the way Marieme deals with her problems, with the closing scene speaking volumes about where Marieme wants to go with her life. The close nature of female friendship is also explored in a way that feels honest and direct, succeeding admirably where so many others have failed miserably (romcoms in general, though Bridesmaids is an exception). Girlhood is a film that rewards patience and attentiveness. It’s troubling and provokes concern when it needs to, but overall there’s a consistent tone of hope and promise that is the stuff of young dreams. No wonder it was nominated for several awards at the Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars. It’s that good a film. Highly recommended. ****