Girlhood (Bande de Filles) (2014)



I booked this one without knowing much about the film, enticed primarily by the live soundtrack by Sampa the Great and the story about being a young, poor, black French woman, with all its beauty and tragedy.

The film is by Céline Sciamma, who was the screenwriter on some films I love (My Life as a Courgette (2016), Being 17 (2016)). The venue, the Plenary, can fit 2,400 people and it was a sold out show. After hiking seemingly forever to get to the venue, then to the Plenary and then to the door, it didn’t feel particularly MIFF. I found a seat in the cavernous space, a better fit maybe for an evangelical church service or a social media convention. Sampa and her band were positioned in front of the screen, with a small haze of light affecting the bottom of it. The audience were the best dressed I have seen for a long time – quirky fashionistas and funky hipsters, here for the music, I suspect, and not your usual MIFF crowd.

The mechanics of a live soundtrack are interesting and I have only ever experienced it before with silent films. The band played, with Sampa’s vocals, before the film started, which then continued over an extended dialogue-free opening scene of girls playing football. It then drifted in and out during quiet moments, usually only lasting a minute or so. At first, I didn’t notice it but tiredness and uncomfortable seats meant it often pulled me out of the film as I recognised it’s artful intrusion. Every now and then the screen went blank after a musical interlude and before a scene change which seemed an artifice to accommodate the score.

The film seems to be made for a live score with a few scenes that work almost like mini music videos – the hotel and Rihanna’s Diamonds being the most notable. Sampa reprises the opening piece at the end and it’s one of the most elegant and thought-provoking moments. A beautiful coda.

The story is of Marieme (Karidja Touré), 16 and not doing well enough at school to go through to high school. She lives in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Paris and parents her younger sisters while her mother works nights as a cleaner. There is no expectation her older brother will help, his role is one of an authoritarian and controlling patriarch. When Marieme meets the mouthy, scrappy trio of Lady (Assa Sylla), Fily (Mariétou Touré) and Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh), she finds a tribe where she can assert herself.

The story is a slowly moving one but Karidja Touré’s intense scowl and gradual transition from quiet good girl to fierce, although innocent, tough girl is mesmerising to watch. The choices for Marieme seem limited and she bounces from one to another, shifting her clothes, hair and demeanour to try and find a space where she has choice and power. As a woman of colour, it’s not an easy ride or a story with an easy resolution but the final scene is one of strength, particularly when punctuated with Sampa the great’s words.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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