16 February 2021

Céline Sciamma's Bande de filles | Girlhood (2014)


Yes, this is yet another coming of age film, although the huge difference is that it's a French coming of age film which has an almost entirely black – particularly female – cast: plus, it's one of the best recent films I've seen in the last twelve months, brilliantly acted and highly engrossing.

Marieme (Karidja Touré) lives in the Parisian suburbs with her mother who works nights, her two younger sisters and her domineering brother Djibril (Cyril Mendy). She quits school after an impasse with her CPE (for which, read educational advisor) and then timidly joins a gang of three girls: Lady (real name Sophie: Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Mariétou Touré). They ride into central Paris and walk around fashion shops in Les Halles, carefully watched particularly by one sales assistant who suspects them of theft.

Marieme's dress and behaviour change as she becomes part of the gang: she changes her braids to long smooth hair, like her friends she extorts money from school students, and they spend the night in a hotel drinking, smoking drugs, trying on clothing they've stolen, dancing and (in a superb scene which will probably remain a classic in modern cinema) dance stoned to Rihanna's 'Diamonds': the world belongs to them. Marieme, after a presentation necklace by Lady labelled 'Vic' (for victory), becomes fully initiated into the gang.

Marieme likes Ismaël (Idrissa Diabaté), although as he's a friend of her brother's there's always been an understanding that this is a no-go area. But one night she seeks Ismaël out at his home and is the active party in an exercise in seduction. Her violently angry brother finds out and calls her a 'pute', she takes refuge in a fast food restaurant and the aptly, but rather clumsily, named Abou (Djibril Gueye) asks her to work for him: he's a pimp but also a drug dealer, and it's under his employ (as 'Vic') that she'll work as a supplier.

Until, that is, Abou, er, abuses his power and tries to kiss her. Marieme runs away into the arms of Ismaël, who is in love with her, wants to marry her and have kids, blah, blah. But that's not what Marieme, although touched, wants. She starts to ring the door of her family's flat to go home, then revises the decision with tears: she's just realised that you can't go home again. Marvellous, so unHollywood.

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