Demi Adejuyigbe’s review published on Letterboxd:
Verrrrry glad I ended up watching Céline Sciamma's previous work after being bowled over by Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. (And very glad I watched them with my girlfriend, whose insights were invaluable in helping me properly contextualize certain moments as the credits rolled.) Water Lilies, Tomboy, and Girlhood are all so different than POALOF but they carry similar themes of the complications of identity that can make the already-harrowing experience of adolescence even more distressing. Tomboy stands out as my favorite of the pack, but there's a confidence in the way that Sciamma directs Girlhood that makes me feel like she wanted to follow Girlhood with something different because she knew she'd mastered the genre. Such an incredible trilogy. And a really terrific showcase of what "good direction" looks like when it isn't as flashy or stylistic as any direction that has an actual chance to win an Oscar.
Obviously, there's an inherent "hmmm" factor in a white director making a film like this that seems to suggest a heavy lean on how blackness intersects with girlhood, but I think the real thing that made me go "hmmm" here, is that the movie doesn't seem to address it very much at all. I've talked before about how much I want to see films that explore a story with diverse characters but don't lean on the diversity as a storytelling element, but I dunno if this is the way. Aspects of the movie seem almost underwritten because they don't explore the reasons behind them, which leaves you to connect it to race and class in a way that the movie never really does. It's almost as if Sciamma knew she wasn't the person to tackle those elements, but needed them to still tell the story she wanted to tell. At least that's my interpretation of it; obviously I'm not a black French woman at all, so maybe there are things here that connected the story to race/class in a way I just missed.
I also think "Girlhood" as a title is a misnomer, as the film isn't so much about growing up as a woman as much as it is about the relationships that young women have with each other and how their camaraderie becomes a warm blanket, especially in the face of patriarchy. The original title of "Bande de Filles" is so much closer to that idea, and sets you up for a greater understanding of what I think Sciamma wants you to see. But even with that mislead, there's a sequence right after the title card that acts as a thesis for the entire film and will certainly stick with me a long time: a group of girls walking home from a football game in the dark, loudly and playfully conversing with each other until they come across a pack of boys sitting on the stairs to their block and get quiet. And that sudden switch could be for a variety of reasons, but the reasons aren't as important as the reflection of a very real and recognizable boy/girl dynamic, in which girls are socialized to silently understand that they must compose their lives around the whims of men. It's such a short moment in the grand scheme of the movie but it almost made me go "oh hell yeah" under my breath!
Truly in love with Sciamma's work. And super excited to see POALOF again now that I stan.