For 16-year-old Marieme, life is like a succession of prohibitions. The neighborhood's censorship, boys ruling the roost, school's dead end. Her encounter with three liberated girls changes everything. They dance, fight back, talk loudly, laugh at everything. Marieme becomes Vic and joins the gang, to make the most of her youth.
"I do what I want."
When a great movie lands in my lap that I'd never heard of before, I start to wonder if I actually do live life with my head in a hole. Seriously how I managed to never hear a thing about 'Girlhood' before it arrived for me to review is a total and complete mystery. This is one of those rare films that showcases incredible talent in front of the camera as well as behind it. A true coming of age drama that doesn't pull punches, is relatable, and leaves the viewer with a sense of hope that more great films are on the way from people involved.
Marieme (Karidja Touré) lives in a rough outskirt of Paris. She plays football, and that offers her the necessary respite of her routine. Life is hard for Marieme as her mother is forced to work long hours to provide her family. This absence leaves Marieme and her sister to the abusive whims of her brother. Without solid enough grades to progress, Marieme is denied the chance to continue to high school and must accept the recommendation that she enter a vocational program that would provide here with some kind of underpaying grueling position.
Rejecting the outcome that befallen her mother, Marieme quits school. Storming out of the building she encounters three young tough girls that are regularly seen hanging around the area. Lady (Assa Sylia) Andiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Mariétou Touré) offer Marieme the chance for experience something she's never felt - a sense of belonging. The three girls envelope the girl Marieme into their group giving her a new family and a group of friends that would always have her back.
As Marieme lives the good life zipping off to Paris, staying out all night and even participating in some shoplifting she begins to see the realities of the life she leads. On one hand this new group of friends offers her a sense of security and friendship she's never had, but on the other hand her continued dodging of responsibility has its own share of consequences. Marieme must find a balance with her new found lust for life while facing the hard realities of adult responsibility.
Right out of the gate I have to give a big shoutout to the performances - these young actresses really gave it their all. Seeing young talent that work well together while delivering raw and real characters is incredibly exciting. Just watching them work, it's easy to see that there was a lot of improve and off the cuff adjustments to let the scenes feel real. When things are at the best for the girls, you're excited and feel like one of the group - as if you're a part of their little fantasy. When the dream fades and reality sets in, it hits just as hard.
Apparently writer and director Céline Sciamma based this film on interactions she witnessed with young girls loitering around shopping centers and train stations. She later found their blogs and researched their styles and activities they'd brag about online and incorporated many of the events into the screenplay. If that's true, it worked. Everything about this movie feels authentic and part of life. It's never easy seeing a loved one or a close friend go down a dangerous path you just can't follow. That anxious feeling is what I got watching this movie. You care about these girls, you want them to experience the good life and and move on - but that wish is just as much a fantasy as the one they've created for themselves. Naturally you want the best, but the best sometimes isn't possible.
'Girlhood' takes a hard look at a lot of themes and ideas and thankfully the film doesn't pretend to have the answers. In situations where someone is taking their life down a path you can't follow it's easy to judge from afar, but you risk losing the understanding that their way will never be your way. The lives of Marieme, Lady, Andiatou, and Fily is a tough journey to watch unfold, but it's richly rewarding. I can't wait to see more from this cast, and I certainly hope to see more from writer and director Céline Sciamma. I don't normally go in for coming of age movies as many times they can feel trite and hollow - but 'Girlhood' is one hell of an experience and a welcome entry in the genre.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Girlhood' arrives on Blu-ray from Strand Releasing and pressed on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard case, the disc opens through trailers for other Strand Releasing titles before arriving at the main menu.
"Pristine" is probably the best way to describe the 2.40:1 1080p presentation. Detail levels are what standout the best here offer rich close up images and scenery. The ladies of 'Girlhood' have their own unique dress sense and none of their style is lost. Color replication is beautiful offering vibrant daylight shots allowing for incredible primary pop. Night shots look just as impressive. Black levels and shadow separation are strong giving a fantastic sense of dimensional depth without any degrading crush issues. Compression artifacts are completely absent without any noticeable effects like banding or edge halos making this presentation positively beautiful.
The sound effects, dialogue, and music throughout 'Girlhood' are given incredible life with this DTS-HD MA 5.1 French audio track. Levels are perfectly balanced so there isn't any kind of tonal whiplash when scenes segue from quieter dialogue moments to louder sequences. Imaging does a decent enough job, but much of the audio keeps to the center channels leaving a lot of the surround elements to be filled with ambients and filler effects. The real highlight sequence is during the girls' pantomime of the Rihanna song "Diamonds" that offers a tonally rich experience. A fantastic audio track that perfectly complements the video presentation.
Interview: (HD 2:56) Actree Karidja Toure (Marieme) discusses working on the film, the early casting process and working with the other girls. This is sadly incredibly brief and doesn't nearly give enough insight into the production. Would love to have seen a lot more.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 1:37) A nice enough trailer that highlights the accolades and does a solid job presenting the feel of the film in 90 seconds.
'Girlhood' started out as an assignment. I didn't know anything about it, what it was about, who directed it let alone who starred in it. Sometimes this is the perfect place to be when you watch a movie this good - it allows you to be fully take away by the film. 'Girlhood' is truly a fantastic film. I would love to see more extras on this Blu-ray from Strand Releasing, but the flawless A/V presentation is strong enough for me to call this one highly recommended.