#Cannes Review: Girlhood

Girlhood (Bande de Filles) (dir. Celine Sciamma, 2014) 

A fresh chapter in the French coming-of-age genre – think The 400 Blows to last year’s Blue is the Warmest Colour – comes in the shape of Celine Sciamma’s captivating latest work, a teenager’s difficult navigation into a very modern adulthood, with a tremendous central performance from first-time actor Karidja Toure.

Marieme is a black 16-year-old from a run-down Parisian banlieu, failing at school and refused entry to sixth form college. She tells her teacher she wants just to be “normal”, but, handed a brochure for vocational schools, she’s told she’s “too late for that”. Eyes down, she sulks out of school until she’s confronted by a gaggle of girls who are looking for a new BFF to join their gang. Her braids are let loose, she starts going out and chatting to the boy she wants, she tries not to be everything that’s expected of her class, upbringing and skin colour.

But Marieme’s rebellion against all that is expected of her isn’t stressed – if she’s a feminist, she doesn’t know it – it’s treated with deft and a lightness of touch by writer/director Sciamma, who continues the themes of a girl’s growing pains seen in Tomboy and the exquisite Water Lilies. This has less of the minimalist formalism of those films – indeed there’s a quasi-dream metaphorical opening sequence where supercharged girls play American football players. Sciamma’s direction is instead more fluid, with Marieme’s burgeoning expressed more by seemingly improvised scenes, like an extended sequence in which she and her posse dance and lip-sync ecstatically to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ while cooped-up in a hotel room they’ve rented out just for them. Her mates give her a pet name, Vic, for Victoire, unknowingly re-appropriating the name from a time when her ancestors might well have been colonised.

At the centre is a breakout performance from Karidja Touré, who commands the screen with stature but vulnerability; one minute she is caring for her two siblings while her mother works a dead-end job. The next she’s fighting for her friends in a gangland punch-up. Her performance has drawn comparisons with a young Jennifer Lawrence, and it’s not inaccurate, developing through the film from someone who awkwardly mugs €10 off a classmate to impress her new mates, to a woman unable to accept her younger sister doing the same when she joins a gang herself.

Girlhood has big ideas but it’s through-and-through a character piece about a group of kids finding a voice in what remains a macho crowd. The gang of four – the others played by Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh and Marietou Touré make the film boisterously fun. The English title is a rough translation of the French Bande de Filles – it doesn’t mean Girlhood as in childhood (the unfortunate similarity to Richard Linklater’s film hopefully won’t hurt its box office), it’s as in girl ‘hood. Marieme is emblematic of girls fighting for individuality when she’s expected to work dead-end jobs like her mother, or marry her new boyfriend to stop her being called a ‘slut’ by her estate. She’s a strong role model, understanding an un-named struggle of womanhood. A slightly unsettling coda doesn’t trouble the film too much, it remains an engrossing and distinctive angle on the troubles of gender and identity for today.

Cannes2014: Yes we cannes

We all know the glamour of the Cannes film festival, but do we know the hard-edged bitterness of a young film journalist without a press pass?

Now we will, because Franklblog’s off to the site of queues, heat, and €8 coffees. Join me from tomorrow for exclusive content from a reviewer without access to most of the films people want to hear about – exclusive because I’m just about the only one barmy enough to have done this.

Even so, and this is why I think it’s still worth going there’s a surprising amount on offer to those who haven’t been anointed with accreditation. I’m going to be covering the Director’s Fortnight, a strand fully open to the public, and also the fringe ACID strand, which premieres Adele Exarchopoulos’ first film since Blue is the Warmest Colour, last year’s Palme d’Or winner.

By all accounts, it looks like there’ll be films there that better Grace of Monaco.

Here are my five picks of films the plebs can see without those pesky passes:

Girlhood (Bande de Filles)

Girlhood

Not the French sequel to Linklater’s Boyhood, but the latest from Celine Sciamma – director of Tomboy and the exquisite Water Lilies – again takes us through the experience of a teenage girl through high school. This time  the main character is a black girl from a poor community, and this promises to be rather more politically charged than her previous two formalist, minimalist works.

Insecure (Qui Vive)

Insecure

The headline here is this is Adèle Exarchopoulos’ first feature since winning the Palme d’Or as an actress in Blue is the Warmest Colour. She plays the supporting role of the lover of a trainee nurse caught in the crossfire of gang warfare in his local community. Blue Movie, as I have come to call it, was such a unique acting performance – an astonishing leap into a bruising, incredible role – that’s it’s difficult to imagine Exarchopoulos in anything else. Will she prove that wasn’t a one-off?

Catch Me Daddy

Call Me Daddy

Brit director Daniel Wolfe’s thriller has sketchy details, but we know that it’s about a girl running away with her boyfriend. Probably not enough to make it required viewing, but from this picture (above), it looks a brooding, visually distinctive pic.

National Gallery

Frederick Wiseman’s modus operandi is long, painstaking documentaries, and this three-hour look at the Trafalgar Square institution looks no different. It took 2 years to make and might be a definitive look at what make our national museums – relatively unique across Europe in their free entry and massive public subsidy – some of the most visited sites in the world.

Whiplash

Whiplash

The audience and jury prize winner at Sundance, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash comes with high praise already, not least because of JK Simmons’ fiery performance as a jazz drummer who teaches his pupils with unorthodox methods.

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