Marieme is an African-French tennager living in a poor neighbourhood in Paris. As her mother works long hours she has plenty of responsibilities within her household where her older and very strict brother takes the unofficial mantle of head of whilst their mother isn’t present. Marieme’s academic career has been affected adversely because of her household duties and it is suggested that when she leaves school she takes a vocational course which leaves her disillusioned and despairing.
She quickly finds solace and escape under the auspices of a girl gang. With this she appears to come out of her shell more but also sacrifices her true personality so that she can fit in and so a kind of grooming starts with her adopting the ways of the gang as a collective and burying her true self in the process. The gang appears to be the role models and family she always wanted rather than the actual family situation she finds herself in. This is very liberating. But also very dangerous when the will of the collective group take over her individual will. She is even given a new name by the group- Vic which is short for Victory and hew new (and fake) identity is sealed.
This film is stunning. It’s a tale of coming of age, friendship and how life can hold many unexpected twists and turns. It also shows how some people’s futures are so empty and devoid of meaning due to a bleak future that they are enticed by the perceived glamour of a life as a rebel or maverick. But with such a life comes serious consequences that are shown worts and all within the film.
With being in a gang there are also rivalries with other gangs to show who is the baddest and most dangerous. This happens in the form of organised fights that are arranged between members of rival gangs with plenty of onlookers cheering and even filming proceedings on their phones. The fights reminded me of some of the fights seen within the TV series Wentworth as they symbolise more than just a winner and a loser but also how they can determine one’s status within a much bigger hierarchy.
Reject a boring life with soul destroying jobs, lack of prospects and a bleak future. But beware of what you accept in it’s place as this may make you vulnerable to other kinds of dangers and place a target on your head.
One criticism that director Céline Sciamma received on making this film was that she is a white women telling a story of black women and so her film is somewhat disingenuous and not authentic. This is nonsense and I oppose this criticism just as much as the arguments levelled at certain actors for portraying a character who is within a different demographic to themselves. It’s called acting for a reason just as directors can tell stories involving characters with different origins to their own.
Look out for the amazing sequence in which the leads mime to Rihanna’s Diamonds, not that you would fail to miss such an exquisite moment. But this could be said about the whole of Girlhood. It’s a stunning film.