Our most cinephilic francophiles head to the 2015 Melbourne French Film Festival. These are their reviews.
We continue our Melbourne French Film Festival Review Series with our Editor, Gemma, and her review of Céline Sciamma’s 2014 film Girlhood (Bande de filles).
Trapped in the harsh concrete surrounds of an outer-Paris housing commission estate, charged with raising her two younger sisters, coping without her absent parents and managing her abusive brother, Mariame is struggling to carve out a life of her own. Timid, awkward and softly spoken, the sixteen-year-old has few allies and almost no adult support. When a group of vivacious and fierce young girls from her neighbourhood decide to take her under their wing, Mariame seizes the opportunity to reinvent herself.
Bande de filles deals with some heavy themes: the oppression, desperation and isolation of disadvantaged French youths, most of them of immigrant backgrounds. The film conveys Mariame and her friends’ unshakable feeling that there is little for them in this world; nowhere to go and nothing to do. Even after leaving the cinema, we are haunted by Mariame’s resigned words to her friends “Vous, vous allez nulle part. Nulle part.” (“You’re going nowhere. Nowhere.”) Discovering in the first few scenes that she doesn’t have the grades to continue her schooling, Mariame suffers from the knowledge that her prospects are anything but bright. In some of the film’s most difficult moments to watch, we see her grow increasingly willing to enter a life of delinquency and violence.
But Mariame is not hopeless, and Bande de filles doesn’t give up on her either.
Pulsing with energy, its soundtrack a sleek and vibrant mix of electropop, Bande de filles laments the state of Paris’ working-class suburbs, yet also celebrates youth and female friendship. Sciamma’s camera captures a strange beauty in the alien concrete towers and 1970s tiling of the housing estate. The film’s colour palette is an electric mix of turquoise and deep blues. Paris itself is filmed only in underground shopping centres and train stations, casting the banlieue and the inner city alike as a labyrinth of tunnels, buildings and artificial lighting. The physical world inhabited by the characters of Bande de filles is not pretty, nor is it modern, but it is bustling and alive.
Mariame and her bande de filles are flawed and naïve, vain and fickle, yet they are also passionate and brave. Mariame’s sense of self shifts and transforms throughout Bande de filles, and we sometimes feel we do not – and cannot – truly know who she is. But this beautiful and haunting film leaves us with the hope that Mariame herself still has a chance to find out.
Catch Girlhood at the festival here.
By Gemma King.