Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Girlhood (orig. Bande de Filles) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13) (3 1/2 Stars)   Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Allociné.fr listing* (F. Mignard) review* (K. Moussou) review*
LaCroix (C. Renou-Nativel) review* (S. O'Malley) review
Slant Magazine (J. Latimer) review
Sound on Sight (J.R. Kinnard) review

Girlhood (orig. Bande de Filles) [2014] [IMDB] []* (written and directed by Céline Sciamma [IMDb] []*) which played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago, can make for a fascinating "opposite book end" to American director recent Richard Linklater's Boyhood [2014]:

Linklater, white, male / American, made a remarkable film focused on a boy, 8-18 y/o, American, white, growing-up middle/lower-middle class in "at the edge of the prairie" Texas.

In contrast, Sciama, still white but female / French, made a remarkable film that focuses on a girl, about 15-16 y/o, French, of West African descent, hence black, growing-up "in a project" (poor) "at the edge of the city" Paris.

Again, fascinating! ;-).

Both films were darlings of the 2014 Festival Circuit and both have received critical acclaim in their respective "home countries."  Linklater's film has been nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Sciamma's for 3 Lumiere Awards (France's equivalent of the Oscars) including Best Film, Best Director and Most Promising Young Actress.

In both cases, though perhaps for different reasons, the directors wished to primarily present their stories through vignettes.  Since Linklater's story was filmed (remarkably) over the span of 10 years the director didn't have much of a choice but tell the story through evocative vignettes (or else his would be a very long movie ;-).  In contrast, in Sciama's film, lead character Marieme's  horizons seemed so limited that what life / freedom / "victory" could be found could _only_ be found in sometimes quite _stolen_ "moments" / vignettes. 

With regard to this last point noting Marieme's limited socio-economic horizons, it would be worthwhile to recommend to American viewers another evocative American film that treads similar ground, though again through a mostly young male (if African American) perspective, the American gang classic Boyz n the Hood [1991], this in particular since the French title to Sciamma's current film is Bande de Filles or Gang of Girls.

So then, to the film ;-)

The film centered on Marieme (played remarkably by Karidja Touré [IMDb] []*) 15-16 y/o, of West African descent, living in the projects at the outskirts of Paris.  There was no father in the picture, and her mother (played by Binda Diop [IMDb] []*) mostly working, as a cleaning lady, was largely out of the picture as well.   Who "ruled the roost" at home was her older brother Djibril (played by Cyril Mendy [IMDb] []*) who dominated her and her 11-or-so y/o younger sister with violence and the threat of violence.  Indeed, "the grounds of the projects" seemed to be dominated by listless, generally unemployed, young men.  Outside there were "strangers." Inside there was the "abusive older brother" who perhaps afforded the girls _some_ "comfort" of being at least "the Devil that one knew" and being ... "Family."

So life, if it was to be found, was to be found outside _beyond the projects_.  But here horizons appeared to be shrinking for Marieme as well.  Her grades not being good, early in the film, she's counseled by her school's administrators to put herself "on a vocational track" because College was NOT going to be in the cards, NOT with her grades (or perhaps having at least partially compensatory monetary fortunes).

Well, one door closes and ... another (perhaps not the greatest) ... opens.   Perhaps shaken by what she was told at school, Marieme, decides (for the first time?) to give "the time of day" to three slightly older and certainly tougher-looking girls, led by "Lady" (played wonderfully by Assa Silla [IMDb] []*) standing by a vending machine _outside_ of school.

Initially it's a rather "awkward" encounter.  The three slightly older, certainly somewhat tougher girls are probably "of the type" that Marieme had been previously "warned about" by her older (abusive) brother and (absent) mother / family.  On the other side of the coin, "Lady," et al, certainly know that previously Marieme would not have given them, "fallen" / "dangerous" girls that they were, much consideration.  So ... some "negotiation" or even "reconciliation" has to take place.   But "Lady," et al probably knew that they too were "once like Marieme," and perhaps Marieme came to appreciate, perhaps more than before, that "Lady," et al probably came-to-be who-they-were as a result of a "once upon a time" conversation like she just had with her school's administrators.

So ... Marieme basically joins their "gang."  And for a good part of the movie, one naturally fears for her and even for some of the others in this "gang of four."

And there are moments that are quite scary and there are moments that are simply _heart-rending_, because these four girls are not "simply evil" or had somehow become "simply evil."  To a good extent they are still "young girls" who "if things were different ..." would also certainly be different:

The show stopping scene in the movie is when the four, dress-up in cheap hotel room somewhere (again "the projects" themselves were apparently considered unsafe by all of them) in clothes that they had obviously "lifted" (stolen) from some department store (the bulky "security clips" still hanging on them) and DANCE / LIPSINC-ING to the Rihanna song named "Diamonds."  Again, "if things were different ..." ... but of course they are not.  And it does make one want to cry ...

It all makes for a very, very interesting movie.  And there are more things going on. Miriam now going by the name "Vic" (for "Victoire / Victory") has, of course, her "Gang of Four."  But she ALSO has her (abusive) older brother and her younger sister (who looks up to her).  Further out, she does have her mother who does care for her but is just too far away too often to make a difference.  And then there is also a young guy in her project named Ismaël (played by Idrissa Diabaté [IMDb] []*)  who likes her (and she kinda likes as well) but ... and she asks him the question ... "what kind of a life would we have together?"  (He'd be unemployed and she'd be his housekeeper / wife?)

Again this is really, really good, thought provoking stuff ... and certainly worthy of the accolades that the film has received.

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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