Written by Yosra Osman


Band of Sisters

French film Girlhood shows a side of growing up we’ve not yet seen on screen and gets great performances from its young stars, says Yosra Osman.

Girlhood cast shot

Photo: Pyramide Distribution.

With the glitzy Cannes Film Festival happening across the Channel this week, you might not know that one of last year’s festival stars is in cinemas here right now. Glitzy may not be the word for it, but it’s well worth a watch.

Girlhood may leave many (understandably) thinking of the much-loved Oscar contender Boyhood. However, to compare them would be a mistake. All they really share is an overarching storyline of the troubled road to adulthood – aside from that, they are two very different films.

Originally titled Bande de Filles (‘Girl Gang’), Girlhood is an intelligent and fresh take on the coming-of-age drama, complete with all its messy and complicated rites of passage. Directed by Céline Sciamma, it’s grittier than your average teen girl tale. Set in the working-class banlieues of Paris, it tells the story of Marieme (played by the terrific newcomer Karidja Touré), a shy 16-year old who finds herself at a loss when she discovers she’s failed to get the grades needed to carry on to high school. Coming from a difficult home life, she finds solace in befriending a gang of three girls. They are beautiful, smart, funny, and in joining them she becomes the fourth member of this powerful, destructive girl gang.

“It’s refreshing to see such an intimate and realistic portrayal of girls like Marieme and her gang, girls who are often ignored on screen.”

Sciamma’s attentive, responsible approach to Girlhood is shown within the first five minutes. We see a large bande of girls dressed like champions and celebrating after an aggressive game of American football. Shortly afterwards they walk home together in silence, heads bowed as they pass the boys on their estate. At once they go from jubilant to vulnerable, defenceless to the social pressures around them. We soon see that our feisty foursome are themselves constrained. They still have to contend with absent parents, social exclusion and the harsh judgement of male peers. Their gang is a fragile defence, but a defence all the same.

It’s refreshing to see such an intimate and realistic portrayal of girls like Marieme and her gang, girls who are often ignored on screen. But you don’t have to be young, black, French, or even a girl to identify with them. The girls’ race, sex and background are a large part of who they are, but they are strikingly relatable. They’re neither heroes nor victims, but you are with them all the way. There’s a scene where the four dance and sing to Rihanna, looking like they’re in a music video. They’ve just robbed a store for their glamorous dresses, but they’re so in their own world, born to perform, that you’re wanting to sing along and dance with them yourself.

Brilliantly acted by newcomers (much of the female-heavy cast were scouted from the streets and malls of Paris), and electrically scripted, Girlhood is the film about growing up we’ve not yet had the pleasure of seeing. It’s raw, it’s defiant, and it’s pretty damn wonderful.

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Written by Yosra Osman

Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions