Proust’s little “bande de filles” was nothing like this. Nor is Ousmane Sembene’s classic film “Black Girl” like this, except for the silence displayed by the protagonists of the
two films as they deal with life’s offerings. Nor does this have the depth of “La Vie d’Adele, Chapitre 1” although it ends in a way that invites the
viewer to want to see what the next chapter offers.
What I saw was the story of a poor black girl in one of the banlieus (the ‘hood) of Paris trying to find a way out of her dead end life. But I never saw
the working her mind or the depth of her character. I saw she had an intuition about life, was fearless, kind, and determined. Does intelligence count? We
must wait for the next chapter to find out how she succeeds if she indeed does. I don’t know if the director has the answer to this. And I wonder if the
way out is through a person or through her own innate resources which I never did see. And this is where I take exception to the film. She failed school,
never seemed to care, played American (??) football but seemed to have no attachment to the game or the players
Who is the director-writer Céline Sciamma? She’s a very talented white girl who went to La Femis,
the French film school some regard as elitist. Her previous two films, deal with female sexual ambiguity (“Tomboy”, “Water Lilies”) and are very authentic,
moving and valuable films worth watching more than once.
When I see films like “Sister” by Ursula Meier, or even “ Two Days, One Night” by the Dardenne Brothers whom I love, even while I enjoy the films – as I did
this one (except for certain moments when I wanted to laugh, e.g., when she wears the blond wig and red dress to deliver drugs at a white party) — I am
aware that I am watching depictions of working class people in dramas directed by bourgeois filmmakers. And when I hear the vulgar loud-mouth dishing of
girl-gangs I am not fooled into thinking it is clever repartee when I know it is foul and crude. And today, with the issues of immigrants and second and
third generations of non-integrated minorities, this is a sensitive area. Having seen the “nouvelle vibe” films of Rachid Djajdani whose film “Hold Back” won the Fipresci Prize in Directors Fortnight
in 2012 or “Brooklyn” by Pascal Tessaud, I am even more sensitized to authenticity.
I don’t think this shows the French black reality in the suburbs. It looks more like a white view of the U.S. urban black ‘hood. When I grew up blacks
barely existed in our thoughts or imagination. I was white and Jewish living in a non-Jewish, white (bigoted) working class neighborhood. There I absorbed
the prevailing view of the Mexicans who lived on the other side of the tracks. They were all considered “pachucos”. And I longed to join the girl gangs who
had fights like the little bande de filles in this movie; they carried switch blade knives, razors in their big hair and pulled the earrings out of the
pierced ears. The two fights in this movie were just like I imagined the fights and were like those male-imagined “catfights” in the AIP prison movies or
of the bar-girls in western movies of that era. Something in this movie has the same scent of inauthenticity. I realize I am projecting my own girlhood
longing to join the bande de filles onto Céline, and perhaps it’s pure projection, but it feels as if she is attracted to them for reasons other than
storytelling. The story is ok but the telling is faulty.
That said, I am very glad Strand is releasing “Girlhood”, and I hope it creates some WOM, just as I hoped “Dear White People” would. It did well, grossing
more than $4 million. I hope this film does as well, though being French, the most I can hope is that it reaches the $1 million box office level. When I
saw “Dear White People” last year in Sundance, I kept quiet because my thought was, that if that is what black students at the universities are preoccupied
with today, then I pity the future of America. And I did not believe for a minute that such overriding preoccupations were real. However, it did quite well
and I hope this one does too, although I believe that I am watching stereoptypes. What are these people’s serious thoughts; where are their depths of
When I grew up and met real Mexicans, I saw none of the stereotypical behavior I was told to beware of. Even when I met gang members, there was no romantic
element at all, only a degradation of humanity caused by the unrelenting prejudice of society’s impersonalization.
I loved the French review of this film by Régis Dubois, who
has a blog very well-respected by black community in France.
For those interested in going into such films in greater depth, see the films of Carrénard,Maldhé, Zadi,Zouhani, May,Djajdani or Tessaud. Check out what is playing at the Festival Cinébanlieue or Les Pépites du Cinéma. These show
the truth about what is happening in the minds of “these people”.
Girlhood (Bande de Filles)
is being sold by Films Distribution
Strand Releasing will release it in the U.S.
Other territories sold are:
Denmark–Reel Pictures Aps, Peripher
France-Oct 22, 2014-Pyramide Distribution
Norway–As Fidalgo Film Distribution
Writer/director Céline Sciamma’s look at a group of black high school students living in the tough banlieues of Paris is grounded by newcomer Karidja
Touré. “Girlhood,” is scheduled to open in New York on January 30, 2015 with a national roll out to follow.
Fed up with her abusive family situation, lack of school prospects and the “boys’ law” in the neighborhood, shy Marieme (Karidja Touré) starts a new life
after falling in with a group of three free-spirited girls. She changes her name, her style, drops out of school and starts stealing to be accepted into
the gang. When her home situation becomes unbearable, Marieme seeks solace in an older man who promises her money and protection. Realizing this sort of
lifestyle will never result in the freedom and independence she truly desires, she finally decides to take matters into her own hands.
French director/writer Céline Sciamma’s debut feature, “Water Lilies”, catapulted her as one of France’s most fresh and notable women directors, garnering
her a César nomination for Best First Feature as well as the prestigious Prix Louis Deluc for Best First Feature awarded by the French Film Critics. Her
second film, “Tomboy”, won the Teddy Jury Award at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival. This is Ms. Sciamma’s third feature film.
This film has great credentials, having debuted in Cannes 2014 Directors Fortnight, gone on to Toronto – TIFF 2014 Contemporary World Cinema and
Stockholm IFF 2014 – Competition (Best Film, Best Cinematography) and Sundance World Dramatic Competition 2015.
Critics loved it too.
“Celine Sciamma’s ‘Girlhood’ is one of the best coming of age movies in years.” — Eric Kohn, Indiewire