Since her 2007 debut Water Lillies, French filmmaker Sciamma is making a mark in terms of coming-of-age features that focuses on teenagers. Her last film, Tomboy, premiered at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival and received rave reviews and now, after being highlighted in last year’s Cannes and Toronto International Film Festivals, Scammer’s newest film looks set to make it a hat-trick.
Girlhood (original title: Bande de Filles) follows young Marieme (Touré) who joins a girl gang to escape her mundane home life and school problems. As she immerses herself in the gang culture, she becomes more assertive yet aggressive, leading her to come to a crossroads with what to do with her life.
While slow and drawn-out in places, Girlhood is a film of subtle strength. Its seemingly normal plot is enhanced by the performances of Sciamma’s practically unknown cast. Touré in particular conveys enough innocence and tenacity in Marieme that even though some of her life choices are dubious, her emotions perfectly capture the conflict and determination when finding out her own identity.
Girlhood essentially gives out a feminist message - while men are considered the dominant gender, women have the ability to find strength to make their own decisions. Although Marieme cowers under her older brother’s abusive ‘rule’, her evolution from a practical homebody to a girl gang member shows gradual progression in maturity and confidence. This not only boosts the film's coming-of-age concept, but also makes it more relatable and inspiring without being overly sentimental.
Sciamma’s confident direction discretely interweaves the themes of sisterhood but the effects of Girlhood’s key scenes, such as lip-synching to Rhianna in a hotel room, to a girl fight that goes viral, are more profound than expected. The end result is a lingering curiosity, not to mention a sense of empowerment.
On the face of it, Girlhood asserts itself as a girl power film, but with its simple yet effective direction and powerful cast, it makes fascinating viewing.