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Film Reviews Girlhood: Exploration of teen rebellion and solidarity

Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Karidja Touré and Mariétou Touré star in Céline Sciamma's Girlhood.

Strand Releasing

2.5 out of 4 stars

Written by
Celine Sciamma
Directed by
Celine Sciamma
Country
USA
Language
English

Visually electric, but more an illustrated thesis than a drama, French writer-director Céline Sciamma's Girlhood is about how a girl becomes a hood. A regal-looking Parisian teenager of African descent, Marieme (Karidja Touré),and her progress from wallflower teen to swaggering girl gangster.

Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy) gets unaffected performances from her non-professional cast, set against Paris' intense contrasts, from grey concrete-slab suburbs to luminous downtown malls. At 16, Marieme's life revolves around caring for her younger sisters mostly – for her absent working mother – and enduring abuse from her domineering older brother. She has a crisis when she learns she has no chance of going to an academic-stream school.

In the schoolyard, she falls in with three local leather-jacketed tough girls, led by the charismatic Lady (Assa Sylla). In the movie's second section, Marieme changes her name to Vic (for Victory) straightens her hair, and revels in adventures with her new friends, extorting money, shoplifting, and in the film's most exuberant moment, getting drunk with her friends and vogueing to Rihanna's Diamonds in a rented hotel room. The desultory third section sees Marieme-Vic caught between gender roles while working as a drug-runner – either dressing like a boy to avoid sexual harassment or dressing as a blond-wigged sexy vamp to deliver drugs at fancy parties. Like Joyce Carol Oates's novel Foxfire (and its two movie adaptions) Girlhood explores female teen rebellion and solidarity, though Sciamma sticks to sociology and images, offering little about her characters' psychology or personal agency.

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