Girlhood ★★★½

A great coming-of-age film refreshingly focused on the lives of young black women in a poor neighbourhood in France. Within the opening five minutes it's like director Céline Sciamma is calling out films of a similar ilk for their poor representation of minorities. We first see a group of people playing american football - turns out they're all girls. As the group walks home and begins to disband, leaving fewer and fewer, their previously loud, joyous chatting quickly dissipates as they walk past male gangs huddled together. How often are female characters simply used as vessels to help a male protagonist along in his journey? How often are almost all of these characters white? Sciamma isn't interested in another film about privileged white kids, but instead about the hardships of being a minority, growing up with a family that's not there when needed and in the way when not. With her grades low and her future looking bleak, Marieme latches onto a gang of three girls in need of a fourth 'member.'

Everything feels authentic - natural dialogue, dilapidated buildings, and the girls just act like you'd expect real teenagers to. The failing school system subtly hangs over everyone's heads in the background. Off camera we hear a woman repeatedly tell Marieme that she can't go to high-school. We never see a classroom, but we see large groups of kids out in the streets. All seemingly in the same boat as Marieme - with few choices and few prospects, so they join gangs to be amongst people like them. No one seems to be helping anyone. The girls are stewing in their ennui, starting fights, stealing clothes and being told that the only way out is to get married and have a kid (the original fourth member of the gang shows up with a baby strapped to her back.) While the structure of the film is nothing to write home about, Marieme's decisions all seem logical when assessing the predicament she's in. We know that they won't likely lead to the freedom she craves, but when you're that desperate anything seems like the correct road to go down. Céline Sciamma doesn't necessarily make groundbreaking films, but she's shown with this and Tomboy that she's willing to give audiences stories revolving around people that aren't represented on screen often, and I admire that.

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