Girl power comes from French cinema in this classic coming-of-age story; female-centric and empowerment driven Girlhood is centered around 16-year-old Marieme and her struggles with peer pressure and self-discovery. While the tale may be repetitive, director Céline Sciamma gives fresh visuals and dramatic flare to the film, which is captivating from the very start. Set in the lower class suburbs of France, Girlhood is as much an emotional journey as it is a visual one and a satisfying film from beginning to end.
Karidja Touré makes her acting debut as Marieme, a recent school dropout and lost soul. Growing up in a dysfunctional home, Marieme is forced to act older than her 16 years. She looks after her two younger sisters while her mother works the night shift doing janitorial work to make ends meet. Her subsequent lack of focus in school causes Marieme to lose her chance of getting accepted into high school, and her dreams of a normal life are shattered. Just as it seems her life is over, she meets Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh), and Fily (Mariétou Touré), three older girls who recruit Marieme to be the fourth member of their “cool girl clique” and, unbeknownst to everyone, change her life for the better.
Girlhood is as much an emotional journey as it is a visual one, and a satisfying film from beginning to end.
The girls are tough- they are a part of this unspoken underground girl gang that gets into fights with others and don’t play nice. Despite their tough chick attitudes, their street style is completely envious (to Marieme and, admittedly, me). Over the course of a few weeks, the girls take Marieme under their wing and transform her from the homely looking girl with long braids and drab clothing into the sleek hair, leather jacket wearing, high top sneaker strutting, fashion conscious “it girl.” The clothes aren’t the only thing that transform Marieme; over time, it becomes clear that these girls have become like a surrogate family to Marieme, as her own dysfunctional one doesn’t get any better. Upon striking up a relationship with her brother’s friend, Marieme is forced to make a life-changing decision to take control of her life, and doing only what’s best for her.
Girlhood, which, by the way, is not a female answer to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, is very performance driven and an actor’s dream. Karidja Touré carries the film on her small shoulders, projecting various emotional moments with strength. One scene in particular is very special to the film; the four girls rent a hotel room and get all dressed up in formal wear to just hang out with each other and drink alcohol. Eventually, they play Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and begin dancing away their problems from the outside world. This moment in the film is captured so beautifully, it could have (and should have) been Rihanna’s official music video. The blueish tones of the room, the general feeling of sisterhood, and the miming of the lyrics while dancing around in beautiful dresses show the girls’ dreams of a better life, but making the most of what they have in that moment. It’s a very powerful scene, which ultimately gives Girlhood its authenticity as the perfect portrait of the undeniable complexity of adolescent life.