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Friday, January 30, 2015


(L to R) Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh), Marieme/Vic (Karidja Touré) and Fily (Mariétou Touré) sing and dance to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in Céline Sciamma's GIRLHOOD 
Courtesy of Strand Releasing
2015, 112 minutes
Not Rated

By Joshua Handler

Céline Sciamma's Girlhood is a subtle, cinematic work about Marieme (Karidja Touré), a teen growing up in the "projects" in Paris who joins a gang and slowly but surely begins to open up to new possibilities in life, in spite of her bleak home life.  The film features a number of memorable sequences that make it worth seeing alone, such as one about thirty minutes in when the girls are partying and lip-syncing to Rhianna's "Diamonds".  It's a fairly simple sequence, yet is one full of joy in a film that has very little.

Story-wise, Girlhood isn't much different narratively from all of the other coming-of-age stories out there, but it is far more cinematic and realistic than others.  Most of Girlhood doesn't feel like a film.  It feels as if Sciamma went out with an excellent cinematographer (Crystal Fournier, whose blue-hued images are wonderful) and recorded the lives of ordinary girls living out their ordinary lives.  The ending of Girlhood is poignant, powerful, and understated, yet isn't something monumental, as it would be in real life.  It's to Sciamma's credit that she can create an ending with that power out of something so ordinary.

However, it is the ordinariness of Girlhood's story that sometimes works against it.  While the mundaneness of the film is one of its highlights, it also means that there's occasionally too little narrative momentum to sustain interest.

Much of the appeal of Girlhood comes from the naturalistic, charismatic performances of its entire cast, Touré and Assa Sylla in particular.  No performance ever feels like a performance.  The lead four who comprise the gang carry the film with their charm and complexity.

Overall, Girlhood is a necessary film for many reasons, not least because it is a coming-of-age story about a girl.  In the past year, we had the unrelated, yet similarly-named Boyhood, which focused itself around, what else, a boy, so it's very nice to have a film like this about a girl, though this one doesn't attempt to capture an entire childhood like Boyhood did.  Sciamma is much more interested in focusing in on a very specific period of young adulthood and exploring one girl's attempt to navigate through it.  Her exploration is a success and is one that many girls should be able to relate to.


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