Girls in the hood

A black French teenager finds true friend­ship when she falls in with the ‘wrong’ crowd in this en­er­gis­ing drama, writesDon­ald

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TICKET REVIEWS -

Karidja Touré in Girl­hood

GIRL­HOOD/BANDE DE FILLES Di­rected by Cé­line Sci­amma. Star­ring Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lind­say Karamoh, Mar­ié­tou Touré, Idrissa Di­a­baté, Sim­ina Soumare, Cyril Mendy. 15A cert, limited re­lease, 113 min The French ti­tle of this en­er­gis­ing film from Cé­line Sci­amma (direc­tor of Wa­ter Lilies and Tomboy) is the less over-reach­ing Bande de filles. It may be pure co­in­ci­dence that, rather than ven­tur­ing Gang of Girls, the pro­duc­ers have coined a ti­tle that ges­tures to­wards an English-lan­guage re­lease that pre­miered a few weeks be­fore their own film.

What­ever the process was, Girl­hood is des­tined to be set be­side Richard Lin­klater’s Os­car-nom­i­nated Boy­hood. It shouldn’t need to be said that the films are very dif­fer­ent beasts. The Amer­i­can project may be soaked in white mid­dle-class dis­con­tents, but Lin­klater was, at least, pre­tend­ing to con­struct a uni­ver­sal com­ing-of-age fa­ble. Like the re­cent Ir­ish film I Used to Live Here, Sci­amma’s piece is more con­cerned with the par­tic­u­lar.

The story is set among young women of African de­scent on the out­skirts of Paris. Sci­amma pulls apart the sin­gu­lar con­cerns of the com­mu­nity, points fin­gers at struc­tural prob­lems and, ul­ti­mately, hap­pens upon a com­monly told story. In the par­tic­u­lar lies the uni­ver­sal.

The in­can­des­cent Karidja Touré plays Marieme, a po­lite, clever girl living with her ag­gres­sive, posses­sive brother and al­most in­vis­i­ble, workde­pleted mother.

Early on we learn that Marieme has not achieved suf­fi­ciently strong grades to progress to the “high school” and will be di­rected to­wards a vo­ca­tional course. One needn’t be an ex­pert in the French ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem to con­clude that one route from the ghetto has just been shut off.

Marieme falls in with a group of tough girls – not quite a gang – who pump up her ego and in­tro­duce her to danger­ous es­capes. It’s an old story. As long ago as the 1950s, when the phrase “ju­ve­nile delin­quent” was ubiq­ui­tous, the cine­mas were awash with good girls and boys fall­ing foul of danger­ous in­flu­ences in leather jack­ets.

Those more cen­so­ri­ous films were al­ways half in love with the glam­our of the out­law life. Girl­hood is equally shame­less in its em­brace of the funky com­rade­ship that char­ac­terises the girls’ re­la­tion­ship. When Christ­mas looms, we will surely re­mem­ber the team’s lip-synch to Ri­hanna’s Di­a­monds as one of the year’s most joy­ous scenes. Dressed in shoplifted clothes that still carry the se­cu­rity de­vices, Marieme and her chums bump and grind their way to a cel­e­bra­tion of the im­per­ma­nent now.

We get a sense of how brief Marieme’s re­lease may be when the girls meet a for­mer mem­ber of the crew who is now strolling around (hap­pily, it should be said) with a baby. The im­pli­ca­tion is that the crew is a per­ma­nent but ev­er­chang­ing en­tity that loses mem­bers to par­ent­hood and gains re­cruits from do­mes­tic ex­clu­sion.

When Marieme is even­tu­ally forced in an­other di­rec­tion, Girl­hood loses a good deal of its steam. There are still dis­con­cert­ing ur­gen­cies in the later sec­tions: the only time the lead char­ac­ters en­counter white peo­ple in congress is at a bour­geois party where they are sell­ing drugs. But the closing act finds Marieme drift­ing too far from the warm per­son­al­ity we en­coun­tered in the open­ing scenes. Peo­ple change. In­equal­ity grinds away at de­cency. Nonethe­less, the film doesn’t sat­is­fac­to­rily sell its lead char­ac­ter’s even­tual de­scent.

For all that, Girl­hood sparkles with brash en­ergy and bravura film-mak­ing. Crys­tel Fournier’s mo­bile cam­era gets to the grit of the bru­tal­ist ar­chi­tec­ture and the un­ruly chaos of youth­ful in­ter­ac­tion. The film is also at home with star­tling set-pieces, such as that Ri­hanna num­ber and an open­ing se­quence that finds the young women play­ing (of all things) Amer­i­can foot­ball.

There are aw­ful sto­ries in here. But such scenes speak op­ti­misti­cally to the power of friend­ship and, for that mat­ter, of girl­hood it­self. Maybe the English-lan­guage ti­tle will do af­ter all.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.