Bande Together. Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood.
I caught up with Céline Sciamma’s Bande des filles (released under the excruciable moniker of “Girlhood” in English-speaking markets) the day after the night before. An election had been and gone, and disillusionment ran thick in the air, as it continues to do so some five days on. Sciamma’s movie was some comfort, not just because it’s a great film, but also because it riffs on themes of hope and youthful ambition. An urgency runs through, and comfort on what felt like the first day of a five-year prison sentence. It plays a bit like Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc recoded as a 21st century state of the nation address.
While it’s the drama of the piece that’s placed front and centre of Bande des filles, the film’s sensory experience is a force to be reckoned with. The picture’s cinematic sensibilities are the first thing that greets the viewer, thanks to a powerful opening sequence that sees the film’s protagonist, Marieme, engaged in a bout of American football. Imported culture runs through the banlieue’s of Paris, the sprawling and forgotten suburban spaces that house society’s poorest and least fortunate. We are introduced to this most fascinating of spaces in the most effective way possible, with the pack of young women walking in a rapidly thinning pack surrounded by identity-less young males. The cultural touch points engaged with by the film’s youth are firmly American, with this expressed most explicitly in a much-acclaimed sequence which revolves around Rihanna’s pop-song ‘Diamonds’, a sequence which affects so much as to cause whole emotional surrender. The scene sees Marieme and her newfound compadres mimic and mime to the conventions of the music promo video, with lingering close-ups acting as a dual springboard to reflection in so much as they also bring to mind the aforementioned Dreyer movie. The whole world of the movie reminds of its influences, and the French tradition of youth cinema.
Karidja Touré, who makes her screen debut, turns in a compelling performance as Marieme. The character undergoes a gradual shift, which sees her harden. This is reflected in her physical transformation too. From an apprehension-driven first mugging to a figure in charge of her own station, Marieme is a fully realised, fascinating portrayal of a suburban, post-colonial France in the midst of transition.The sight of Marieme begging to be allowed to attend “normal” school is one not to be forgotten, with her face to camera, her teacher unseen. Adults stay hidden for much of the movie. We do briefly meet Marieme’s mother (her father is no longer on the scene, a happenstance that goes unexplained, though silence on the subject speaks a thousand words), and a colleague of hers, but with the case of the latter the role and relationship between that figure and the youth are subverted and bent beyond any formal recognition, while the mother’s role, as dual-nurterer and provider means that the fleeting nature of her appearances are nothing if not apt.
Bande des filles is a bold, powerful work, and one that will no doubt find itself a fixture of the contemporary French cinema lexicon.