Bande de Filles—misleadingly called Girlhood in English—is a new French film trying way too hard to be “commercial.” Instead of telling the story she really wants to tell about the downward trajectory of a beautiful but doomed teen named Marieme” (Karidja Touré), filmmaker Céline Sciamma fills the screen with scenes that look like mini-music videos. (JLH: 3/5)
Written and directed by Céline Sciamma.
Review by FF2 Managing Editor Jan Lisa Huttner
Richard Linklater premiered Boyhood—now predicted to win a heap of Oscars next month—at the Sundance Film Festival on January, 19, 2014, and by the time French filmmaker Céline Sciamma arrived in Cannes in mid-May to show her film Bande de Filles, Boyhood was already generating Big Buzz at film festivals from Austin to Boston. So I guess it was inevitable that the title Bande de Filles would be translated as Girlhood by Sciamma’s American distributors, but if you are expecting these two films to be comparable in any way, shape or form, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Bande de Filles—which actually means “a bunch of girls” but is probably best-translated in context as Girl Gang–is a revealing look at the life prospects of a beautiful but doomed young woman named “Marieme” (Karidja Touré). When we first meet her, Marieme is a high school student living in one of the infamous high-rise housing complexes which surround the more prosperous parts of Paris. (In English, we call these banlieues “suburbs,” but a better word would be slums.)
Although obviously bright and articulate, Marieme hasn’t done the work required for admittance into the academic program, so she is being tracked into vocational training. Since higher education has already slipped through her fingers, Marieme knows she has no legal means to advance herself. Frustrated, Marieme becomes irate when her mother sets her up as a trainee on her cleaning crew. She refuses the job, drops out of school, and begins her downward slide from shop-lifting to drug-peddling to probable prostitution.
This should be very grim stuff, but Sciamma fills the screen instead with gorgeous images of young women at the peak of their beauty, filled to overflowing with innocent adolescent camaraderie. In one scene Marieme and her three BFFs pile into a hotel room, eat pizza, and sing and dance as if in a cocoon.
Interesting things happen around the edges of Bande de Filles. The members of Marieme’s family are very dark-skinned and obviously of African origin (although I don’t remember mention of a specific country). Marieme’s mother appears to be a single parent, totally responsible for the well-bring of her four children. Do these children of hers have one father? Several fathers? Who knows?
The looming male presence is a scowling brother who lords it over the younger three—all of whom are girls. As the second child and the oldest girl, Marieme is expected to manage all of the domestic tasks while her mother is at work, so she does her best to hold it together as long as she can if only for sake of her sisters.
Marieme’s closest relationship is with the sister next in line. Sometimes Marieme teaches her as they care for their home and their baby sister together, and other times Marieme teases her when they are alone in the small room they share. These tender scenes give Bande de Filles a warm glow that is otherwise in short supply.
Let’s put it this way: I really, really wanted to like Bande de Filles but in the end, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was trying way too hard to be “commercial.”
© Jan Lisa Huttner FF2 Media (1/31/15)
Top Photo: Karidja Touré is so luminous as “Marieme” that she almost succeeds at holding it all together.
Bottom Photo: Marieme with the three BFFs in her “gang.” (From left: Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Karidja Touré and Marietou Touré)
Photo Credits: Strand Releasing
None of the essential conversations between any of these female characters are about men. With the exception of Marieme’s brother “Djibril” (Cyril Mendy), male characters are few and far between.
Marieme does have a love interest named “Ismaël” (Idrissa Diabate), but they have to keep their relationship a secret so as not to “dishonor” Djibril. So Marieme is careful never to speak about Ismaël even with her sister.