Opening explosively with a night-time all-female game of American football set to the hypnotically urgent electro-goth of Light Asylum’s ‘Dark Allies’, Girlhood daringly stakes out new territory for French director Céline Sciamma. Where Sciamma’s first films, Water Lilies and Tomboy, examined adolescence and burgeoning womanhood in white middle-class suburbia, her third feature focuses on 16-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré), an underprivileged black girl from the Paris banlieues and one of the players in this symbolically charged game.
Girlhood has nothing more to do with sport (unlike Water Lilies’ total immersion in the world of synchronised swimming) but follows Marieme as she negotiates an environment in which the odds are very much stacked against her. Befriending a trio of sassy local girls (the film’s French title is Bande de filles or Gang of Girls), she tries on new clothes and new identities, at first hesitantly and then defiantly, growing in confidence and assertiveness as she goes.
Society at large would definitely not sanction what she gets up to – including shoplifting, fighting and drug-dealing – but Touré’s superbly nuanced performance and Sciamma’s sharply observant direction ensure we never lose compassion and empathy for her.
And when Marieme and her friends, dressed to the nines in stolen clothes, dance and lip-synch in an uptown hotel room to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ in a display of rapturous girl-power camaraderie it’s hard to resist their vibrant joie de vivre. ‘Shine like a bright diamond,’ indeed!
Girhood shows at the Vue Leicester Square at 2.45pm today and at the Ciné Lumière at 8.45pm on Saturday 19th October.