Cert 12a | ★★★★☆
Girlhood’s title has been changed for the English release – perhaps to cash in on the popularity of Boyhood – but the original French name, which translates as “gang of girls”, is more appropriate. For this is a film about the adolescent need to belong, and it’s one of the most thoughtful meditations on identity – racial, sexual, class – that I’ve seen in a while.
Marieme is a teenager leading a humdrum life in a gloomy Parisian suburb. Unhappy at school, she falls in with a crew of sassy older girls who skive classes to shoplift, get boozed-up and have fun. They give her a new lease of life, but before long she begins to question whether their lifestyle is a future she envisages for herself.
Writer-director Céline Sciamma deftly ties Marieme’s identity crisis into the wider issue of the place of marginal groups in French society. Almost every character is black and working class, and those who aren’t are generally antagonists. Sciamma also carries over themes of female eroticism and gender oppression from her previous films. This all unfolds in a social realist mode not dissimilar to last year’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, albeit with a dash of visual minimalism that Sciamma appears to have acquired from her mentor Xavier Beauvois.
Brilliantly acted, especially by newcomer Karidja Touré in the lead role, Girlhood is also a bit portentous, and the male characters border on caricature. But this is nevertheless a nuanced, highly watchable portrait of a girl caught between trying to defy social norms and acquiescing to them.