Cinema is arguably at it’s most satisfying when it is introducing audiences to worlds they have hitherto unexplored. So, when I say that Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood centres on a working class, sixteen year-old, African-French girl, suffice to say I’m not all that clued up on life in the suburban Parisian estates. And it’s that unique spin on a more familiar life of crime narrative that really gives Girlhood its bite.
In an attempt to escape from the oppressive and abusive clutches of her older brother, Marieme (Karidja Touré) finds herself seduced by the freedom of a small all-girl gang after she is kicked out of school. But, as she finds herself journeying deeper and deeper down this path, she starts to see shades of her older sibling shining through.
To see this narrative from a female point of view is an eye-opening alternative to the male dominated crime dramas that dominate our screens. Marieme’s journey is similar to that of her male counterparts, in many ways, but there a select few beats that cement the importance of this alternative perspective.
The film’s wild card, however, is Sciamma’s transcendent use of music. French electronic artist Jean-Baptiste de Laubier, known artistically as Para One, creates a sonic soundscape that pulses with life. And, Sciamma makes full use of Laubier’s talent, orchestrating a series of dialogue-free music video-esque sequences that pair Laubier’s compositions with arrestingly beautiful imagery. It makes for mesmerising cinema. One almost gets the feeling that a re-edit featuring just the musical sequences would have maintained the narrative drive, whilst delivering a more potent and transportive experience. There’s little to compare work this good to, but I was reminded of Nicholas Winding Refn’s masterful use of synthy europop in his 2011 masterpiece Drive.
Girlhood is an important insight into a lifestyle little explored on film. But it’s Para One’s score that really stays with you . . .