AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


CRITICAL WOMEN HEADLINES

2/11/15

Girlhood: Journey Stripped Of Culture And Unique Experience


By Kaneisha Montague

Celine Sciamma’s "Bande De Filles" or "Girlhood" is an enduring but troubling coming of age film. Ironically released along the same time as the popular, longitudinal coming of age film "Boyhood" the two are far from similar. Marieme (Karidja Toure) stars as the young French girl of African descent, struggling to find her footing. The opening scene of two all-girl football teams playing against each other followed by a group walk home and separation, leads the viewer to believe the story is in fact about the comaraderie of this Band of Girls/ Girl Gang. Marieme, once separated from her friends during the walk home, immediately entraps us within her separate world. We are then introduced to her love interest, and the several dynamics of her single parent home. It appears as though Marieme is the eldest girl sibling, while her older brother has assumed the position of father and strikes fear into his younger sisters. Marieme’s mother is out of the house throughout the majority of the film, working as a janitor and forcing Marieme to be the caretaker of the house and the eye of admiration for her younger sister.

While attempting to find her footing, Sciamma brings us to a pivotal point in Marieme’s life. Complications with grades push Marieme into her only other option; vocational school. While upset with the path she must take, she simultaneously meets a group of troubled girls that consider themselves bullies. When accepted with open arms, Marieme takes a turn for the worst and begins to mirror the personality and acts of the group leader. From fights, to drug distribution, to prostitution, the main character shifts the term "Girl Gang" or "Band of Girls" to a more literal definition of the phrase. Marieme lives in careless moments, and fully invests in pockets of happiness that she shares with her new "Girl Gang." Though we can clearly see that Marieme has accepted her new troubled life, a lot of moments are left empty and unfulfilled. The viewer can assume and anticipate the outcome of a scene, but Sciamma neither brings scenes to complete fruition nor provides them with closure. Intimate scenes are bare of true emotion. Emotional connections are acted out, but not translated well enough for the viewer to feel it.

Though attempting to be relatable, the film strips just about every aspect of culture and unique experience from the audience to enjoy. Marieme speaks French and her family appears to be of African descent, we can only assume and therefore an opaque understanding of time and place is created. Americanized music, clothing and conversations prevent the viewer from truly journeying with the main character. Sciamma’s approach on translating this idea of "Girlhood" is smothered by modernized scenes and an overly commercialized storyline.

It would have been great to see what “Girlhood” truly means and feels like for a French speaking young woman of African descent.

Kaneisha Montague is a filmmaker based in Metro Atlanta. She is a member of the Women Film Critics Circle.

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