A movie review of “Girlhood,” a French coming-of-age tale that’s beautifully observed, precisely directed and acted with wonderful conviction.
“Girlhood” takes a familiar theme, a teenage girl’s coming of age, and makes it feel like we’ve never truly seen it before. Beautifully observed, precisely directed and acted with wonderful conviction, it pulls us into the life of its protagonist in a deeply involving way.
“Girlhood” is the third strong work, after “Water Lilies” and “Tomboy,” by writer-director Céline Sciamma, a filmmaker who focuses on the struggles and conflicts of young women in today’s pressure-filled society.
Though its acting is uniformly on point, “Girlhood” was especially fortunate in finding Karidja Touré for its charismatic protagonist. As a 16-year-old girl who tries on radically different identities, even names, like she was trying on clothes that might or might not fit, Touré has an instantaneously empathetic presence that carries us with her no matter how difficult, even perilous, her character’s situation becomes.
‘Girlhood,’ with Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla. Written and directed by Céline Sciamma. 112 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
The Los Angeles Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
“Girlhood’s” vivid opening sequence is typical of Sciamma’s instinct for doing things differently: Two teams of French school girls are playing a game of American football, running and passing with abandon and skill. But the result of the game is not competition but camaraderie. Not for the last time, we feel the power of sisterhood. Part of that group is Marieme (Touré), living in far from ideal circumstances on the outskirts of Paris.
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“Girlhood’s” plot kicks into gear with a shock. Marieme is at the age when French students are put on different paths, with the more academic going to high school and the others to trade schools. Marieme wants desperately to go to high school, but she doesn’t have the grades and is flatly told it’s out of the question.
Seething with fury, she catches the eye of a trio of tough, leather-jacketed adolescents led by Lady (Assa Sylla). They may not seem like ideal role models, but “Girlhood” emphasizes how much their hanging together does for their morale and sense of self-worth. Best of all are the moments in a hotel room, where the girls take bubble baths, lip-sync along with Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and in general fantasize about the plush life they may never have.
More than anything, “Girlhood” celebrates the energy and passion for life of these young women. We cannot be sure where they will end up, but their struggles are experiences we are not likely to forget.