“You do what you want”


Think about the last time you encountered a cluster of teenagers laughing too loud. The constant glances at mobile phones and the slight adherence to a sort of style code probably smacked of narcissism and herd mentality. But that’s just the view from the outside. Inside of that circle, there’s a lot more going on – more challenges, more validation, more temptation, and more growth.

It just might not seem that way in amongst the selfies and the gossip, but upon further review, it’s all in there. But what exactly do teenage girls learn from their closest friends, and how much does that truly prepare them for going it alone?

GIRLHOOD (aka BANDE DE FILLES) is the story of Marieme (Karidja Touré), a french teenager who is the second oldest of four children living with their single mother in the Parisan suburbs. With her mother off working most of the time, it’s Marieme that is tasked with taking care of her two younger siblings, while her brother Djibril intimidates and abuses all three girls in his de-facto role as man of the house.

When we first meet Marieme we’re given mixed messages. Between a few glimpses of her participating in sports and witnessing the way she interacts with her sisters, we first believe that she is a bright girl who has a great deal going on for herself. However, we’re then given a cold dose of reality when we discover that she’s already repeated a grade, and after failing that grade again is being kicked out of school. Despite her obvious promise, and her desperate pleas, it looks like she’s about to be cut adrift.

It’s then that she meets three girls who will have a profound influence on her. Upon leaving school – perhaps for the last time – she is approached by a gang of three girls nicknamed Lady, Adiatou, and Fily. Something about Marieme interest them, and they fold her in as a fourth member of their little brood.

Their influence brings Marieme out of her shell once and for all. Now going by the nickname “Vic” (as in “Victory”), she gets a crash course in relating to boys, relating to girls, treating those older than her and those that are younger. However as much as those teachings bring about turns in style and in confidence, they also edge towards some violent tendencies and some that are potentially self-destructive.

What’s more is that her new attitudes play a big part in how she relates to the men around her. There’s Djibril for starters, but then there’s also a boy named Ismaël who thinks she’s pretty, and a drug dealer named Abou who thinks she has potential. They might not have given her the time of day before, but that doesn’t mean that their newfound interest will affect Vic for the better.

So while her school might have kicked her out, it seems as though Vic’s lessons are far from over.


Karidja Touré in GIRLHOOD


In watching Karidja Touré’s performance in this film, we’re treated to a performance that is all about subtlety. When we first meet her we see alternate glimpses of joy and longing in her eyes depending on what she’s looking at. Her body language doesn’t change much in the early moments, but the expression of her face speaks very loudly. She plays Vic as a girl who doesn’t know that she truly wants to be like anyone she knows, until she is taken in by a circle of friends and discovers what she never knew she always wanted. There are no tears, no histrionics, but still a great deal of sadness and want in these early moments.

The beautiful thing about GIRLHOOD is that it’s not afraid to linger in a moment. A moment may seem slight, seem tense, or seem tragic, but all of them are given equal weight in the eyes of this film. The reason is because we may not believe it, but we can learn just as much about a girl watching her lipsynch to Rihanna as we can seeing her be assaulted by her brother. The search for acceptance and direction is just as much grown out of the laughter as it is from the tears. So while it might give the film more weight to linger on a scene of Vic in a fist fight, or being intimidated by a drug dealer, the truth is that we learn just as much about her by lingering on her hands during a romantic encounter.

In between the bubblegum moments and those of stark reality is where the identity is forged.

What GIRLHOOD illustrates so elegantly is the desire for every young person to feel a sense of belonging, but especially for young women. As we grow older, many of us feel a want to stand out, to be individuals, to have our own voices heard. Before that though, we all go through a stage where the strongest desire is to be part of the crowd. There’s a sense of acceptance that comes with being part of a small circle; it delivers a vote of confidence, and spurs us to try things we never otherwise would. What’s more is that for girls there is safety in numbers. We see this in Vic’s body language when she walks through her housing complex alone early in the film, and get to contrast it with her attitude when she makes the same walk later flanked by her new friends.

It seems counterintuitive, but the truth is that Vic – and other girls like her in our world – do far better when flanked by others than she does when walking alone.

The ultimate moral of GIRLHOOD is that every young girl will be tested as they decide which voices to listen to. Some of the people that surround teenage women will want the best for them, some will want to do them harm. The problem is that the ones with their interest at-heart can sound harsh and distant, and the ones that will steer them wrong can sound so tempting. The toughest test of all comes when a girl like Vic listens to their own voice and convinces herself into some bad decisions.

GIRLHOOD shows just how many questions run through the mind of the average teenage girl, and just how important it is that they find the right answers.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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