Marieme who later changes her name to Vic (Karidja Toure) is a girl with a very bleak future. She dreams of being able to escape the world which sees her single mother work a back breaking cleaning job and a world where her brother feels like he owns all the girls in the family choosing who they see and beating them if they dare to go against his wishes. Marieme’s dreams of escaping this world though a stamped out when her teacher tells her that her grades are not good enough for her to go on any further in High School.
Not sure what to do Marieme finds herself recruited by a girl gang made up of Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Marietou Toure). The gang soon provides Marieme with a sense of friendship and away to escape her boring mundane life but when it starts luring her into a world of drug dealers and violence it seems to be becoming a slope that might ruin her life.
Girlhood is an ambitious film. Normally a film exploring something like gang culture will be written or directed by somebody that has been there and done that. That isn’t the case with Girlhood though. Instead this was put together by Celine Sciamma after she accessed the blogs of some of the girl gangs she saw hanging around various parts of Paris. To her credit Sciamma does well and like the film that put her on the world map, Tomboy, once again has created a coming-of-age story with a really gritty difference.
The power of Girlhood is that Sciamma sets up in such a way that you can really see why Marieme takes the journey into the gang world that she does. We see the sadness from her home life and without having to spell it out for the audience Sciamma shows that Marieme’s environment has really become her own prison cell. The only thing missing though is perhaps a better explanation of why Marieme’s brother seems to have so much power over the family.
To Sciamma’s credit she doesn’t glorify the whole gang culture but it also feels that she doesn’t explore the subject quite as deeply as she could have either. In a way if Girlhood was going to be a hard hitting warning about gang culture then it needed to pack the punch that films like Trainspotting or Kidulthood did when they set their sights on their vices. While Sciamma does create enough emotional scenes to make you realise that Marieme has made a bad mistake with her life it lacks that real punch (excuse the pun if you’ve seen the film) that it needed to make kids really re-think wanted to get involved with a culture that seems to have his coolness back. Cinematically the film also lets itself down a little with some scenes that are over-long, such as the girl’s singing in the hotel room, which does cause the audience’s attention span to drop in and out at times.
One of the things that does work for Girlhood is its amazing cast. Newcomer Karidja Toure explodes onto the screen in her portrayal of the conflicted Marieme. Toure takes the character on a real journey from a lost and confused schoolgirl to a street tough who can brawl with the best and then onto a hardened drug dealer who isn’t afraid to try and mix it with the boys. Such a character journey would be a stretch for a lot of young actresses but Toure handles the role with ease and delivers a performance that leaves you shaking your head when you realise that this is not only her first feature film but her first acting role. She is someone to seriously watch in the future.
Girlhood does have its flaws but this is a still a gritty film that takes a good look at the very seldom explored world of French girl gangs. The film lets itself down occasional with some over long scenes but for the most part is a well written character journey that allows its young star to shine.
Director: Celine Sciamma
Starring: Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla
Running Time: 113 mins
Release Date: 8th May 2015