Written, costume designed, and directed by Celine Sciamma, Bande de filles (Girlhood) is the story of a 16-year old girl who lives in a rough neighborhood in Paris as she befriends a trio of girls who refuse to be defined by the rules of society. The film is a coming-of-age story that follow four young French-African women who deal with their lives as well as the world that is often ruled by boys as they all choose to make up their own rules. Starring Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, and Marietou Toure. Bande de filles is an evocative and hypnotic film from Celine Sciamma.
The film follows a French-African 16-year old girl whose oppressive family life and lack of prospects at school as she befriend a trio of girls who are part of a gang as she embraces a new lifestyle that refuses to be defined by anything including the law of men and boys. It’s a film that follow this young woman and three other young women who are also French-African and live in rough areas near Paris as they’re all high school drop-outs with not much of a future other than just hanging out and forming their own crew. Celine Sciamma’s screenplay has a structure that follows the journey that Marieme (Karidja Toure) who isn’t an academic prospect despite her hard work but the lack of a future and the abuse she receives from her old brother due to her mother not being around because of work. Upon meeting these trio of young women lead by Lady (Assa Sylla), Marieme becomes part of the group as a way to not just fit in but also find her identity though she still has to deal with things including taking care of her two younger sisters as one of them is becoming a teenager.
The script also has this unique narrative structure that play into Marieme’s development as she would gain a nickname in Vic and how she would earn it. Even as she becomes someone that is loyal to her gang as she takes part in gang fights while she also starts to showcase her own idea of womanhood as she would also gain a boyfriend in Ismael (Idrissa Diabate) who is a friend of her brother. The script also play into some of the downsides of gang life where Marieme learned about a former member and why she left though there’s no animosity between her and the gang while Marieme also sees her younger sister be part of a young gang.
Sciamma’s direction definitely bear some style in its visuals yet remains grounded in its emphasis to study the world of urban life that is on the outskirts of Paris as it is shot on locations outside of the city with a few parts in the city. Sciamma’s usage of the wide shots don’t just add to the scope of the locations as they’re unique in its setting as world that has elements of African culture but also in tune with what the city of Paris is as well as some American culture. Notably with African-American culture as the four young women play into that world that says a lot about their identity as black women that include music, dancing, and clothes with Sciamma serving as the film’s costume designer where she uses clothes to help express these women including Marieme’s own evolution as a person. In the first act, she wears largely sports-like clothing as the first scene shown have women playing American football while the second act has Marieme wear more street-like clothing as well as expensive designer dresses. One noted scene during the second act involves the four women all wearing these expensive dresses and jewelry where Marieme earns the name Vic as they all sing and lip-sync to Rihanna’s Diamonds as it is presented in a medium shot in very few shots where Sciamma lets the camera linger in this moment that is just intoxicating.
Sciamma also showcase the world of African-French culture and how they interact with conventional society but also be part of their own yet there are also dangers as it relates to Marieme’s own attraction to Ismael and its repercussions. Notably as her home life becomes more oppressive with her mother unable to be at home and her brother being more controlling as Sciamma’s close-ups and medium shots play into that as the film’s third act is darker as it relates to the path that Marieme takes upon meeting this drug dealer in Abou (Djibril Gueye) who offers her a home away from her brother but her gang believes it is a bad idea. It is where the film’s tone does change in terms of its mood yet remains consistent with the narrative that Sciamma is telling as it play into her lack of a future yet there is also something hopeful in the way the film ends as it is more about Marieme taking control of who she is with or without a gang. Overall, Sciamma crafts a mesmerizing and riveting film about a young woman who joins a gang of women in a search for her own identity away from her oppressive home life.
Cinematographer Crystel Fournier does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its vibrant usage of colors including for many of the interior/exterior scenes at night as well as its emphasis on low-key lighting. Editor Julien Lacheray does amazing work with the editing as it has elements of style in a few jump-cuts as well as some slow-motion bits as it help play into the drama and Marieme’s own journey. Production designer Thomas Grezaud does excellent work with the look of Marieme’s home as well as a few of the places she goes to including hotels and restaurants. Makeup supervisor Marie Lusiet and hair supervisor Milou Sanner do fantastic work with the look of the hairstyles that the young women wear as well as how the makeup enhances their beauty as it play into the celebration of what it means to be black.
Sound editor Pierre Andre does superb work with the sound as it is straightforward as it help play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as how sparse the sound is during one of the fight scenes in the film. The film’s music by Jean-Baptiste de Laubier as Para One is incredible for its soothing electronic music score that features elements of ambient and hip-hop that helps play into Marieme’s own journey of self-discovery while its music soundtrack features an array of music from Rihanna, J. Dash, Light Asylum, Lita Solis & Audrey Carpentier Mballa, and some classical pieces.
The casting by Christel Baras is incredible as it feature notable small roles from Damien Chapelle and Rabah Nait Oufella as a couple of Marieme’s friends late in the film, Dielika Coulibaly as a prostitute named Monica that Marieme also befriends late in the film, Binta Diop and Chance N’Guessan as a couple of Marieme’s younger sisters, Siminia Soumare as a former gang member in Bebe, Djibril Gueye as the drug dealer/businessman Abou, Idrissa Diabate as a young man Marieme falls for in Ismael, and Cyril Mendy as Marieme’s abusive older brother Djibril. Marietou Toure and Lindsay Karamoh are amazing in their respective roles as Fily and Adiatou as two gang members who both like to have fun as they take Marieme into their gang as they would be impressed with her determination and sense of loyalty.
Assa Sylla is brilliant as Sophie/Lady as the gang leader who takes a liking to Marieme as she is wowed by her loyalty as well as realizing she can count on someone during the toughest of times. Finally, there’s Karidja Toure in a phenomenal performance as Marieme/Vic as a 16-year old woman living in the projects as she deals with limited prospects as she drops out of school and joins a gang as she goes on a discovery of her identity while dealing with an oppressive home life as Toure’s performance is one filled with anguish but also moments that are just lively as it is a major breakthrough for Toure.
Bande de filles is a spectacular film from Celine Sciamma that features an incredible leading performance from Karidja Toure. Along with its ensemble that includes its trio of young women in Assa Sylla, Marietou Toure, and Lindsay Karamoh, exploration of French-African culture, gorgeous visuals, and a hypnotic music score and soundtrack. The film is truly unique in its exploration of womanhood told from a different voice and world that will seem foreign to many yet has similarities in how black women choose to define themselves no matter the circumstances and their refusal to be identified a certain way. In the end, Bande de filles is a tremendous film from Celine Sciamma.
Celine Sciamma Films: (Water Lillies) – (Pauline (2010 film)) – (Tomboy (2011 film)) – Portrait of a Lady on Fire – (Petite Maman)
© thevoid99 2021