August 28, 2015


Remember the big award winner this year: "Boyhood"? Well, meet "Girlhood." In French, it's actually "Bande de Filles" (Band of Girls), but the English (subtitled) very smartly became "Girlhood."

Marieme is a 16-year-old girl living in the projects in France with her abusive older brother, her charwoman mother who is hardly ever home, and her two younger sisters.

Marieme gets involved with three female highschool dropouts. She is nicknamed "Vic" (for "victory") because her best friend in the little gang gives her a necklace (presumably stolen) with that name on it. They get into mild shenanigans and dream big dreams. This easy-going film (written and directed by Celine Sciamma) takes its time and there never seems to be anything dire or truly sad or threatening going on--partly because the Fab Four always have each other. Emotions (except for youthful exuberance) are a bit repressed, or maybe that's because these girls have to be tough. There also seems to be a kind of doom about these girls without many opportunities.

To see this all-girl-all-the-time camaraderie was refreshing. (There are so few non-silly gal pal films.) I also liked the sense of a strong womanhood that pervades. But strong to what ultimate purpose? Most of the guys are kind of bums, so there's a little statement being made there. Not blatant, but when you start adding it up....

Vic has a few adventures with her new friends, gets closer to her boyfriend, plans her own path (or as her friend Lady coaches her: "Do what you want"), but Marieme/Vic is always restless.

My main question about "Girlhood" is: did we ever really get to know this girl throughout the film? (Granted, she's a teen and her personality is still developing.) She is tender toward her family and friends, but can be mean toward others. It was great having our protagonist be a "poor girl," but I never really bought that she or her friends were that poor. Their personal and other trappings always looked quite comfortable. We were just supposed to believe it. I would have been more engaged and invested in the film if it actually was a little more gritty.

Two loose ends, for me, were: no mention at all of a father, and there are four kids. And the mother simply fades out of the picture all together (not sure if we hear her voice at the very end or not).

The ending, in my humble opinion, might be a bit of a (feminist's?) dream. Vic rebels against all available options, but she's still going to make it. Somehow. Good luck to her. And who am I to say she isn't going to make it? But it was a Hollywood, Disney ending. If you just "believe".... And, of course, we need to remember, this is a French film. Stubbornly impressionistic and whimsical.

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