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Karidja Touré is extraordinary as a teenager desperate to make a better life for herself in GIRLHOOD

GIRLHOOD (BANDE DE FILLES) (Céline Sciamma, 2014)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, April 26, $14, 4:00 & 7:30

FIAF’s two-month CinéSalon series “EDM Anthems: French Touch on Film” comes to a poignant conclusion April 26 with Céline Sciamma’s sensitive, gripping, award-winning Girlhood. In her outstanding film debut, Karidja Touré earned a César nomination as Most Promising Actress for playing Marieme, a sixteen-year-old girl who is trying to find a workable path to a worthwhile adulthood but is continually thwarted by socioeconomic and cultural issues. Marieme wants to go to college, but a guidance counselor tells her that her grades aren’t good enough and that she should instead choose a vocational school. She’s clearly bright, but she has to spend much of her time taking care of her younger sisters while her mother works as a cleaning lady and her lazy older brother, Djibril (Cyril Mendy), plays video games and keeps a tight watch on the women in the family. Distressed by her options as a young black woman in France, Marieme starts hanging out with a gang of tough girls led by Lady (Assa Sylla), who christens Marieme “Vic” for victory. Vic, Lady, Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh), and Fily (Mariétou Touré) battle other small gangs, head to the city to steal fancy clothing, and flirt with the local boys in the Parisian suburbs of Bagnolet and Bobigny. Vic is attracted to Ismaël (Idrissa Diabaté), a friend of Djibril’s who is hesitant to get involved with her, but the two soon start a kind of relationship. Amid gang fights, drug dealing, neighborhood gossip, and romantic entanglements, Vic desperately searches for her identity and refuses to give up on her dreams.

Sciamma never takes the easy way out in this fresh and potent coming-of-age story. Girlhood is beautifully photographed by Crystel Fournier, who also shot Sciamma’s Water Lilies and Tomboy, using a vibrant palette to illuminate the girls’ strong emotions. The pulsating electronic soundtrack by Para One, aka Jean Baptiste de Laubier, adds to the emotional upheavals experienced every day by the characters. Karidja Touré and Assa Sylla have a terrific chemistry; the film really comes alive when they are together, through good times and bad. And despite the serious subject matter, Sciamma also lets things get loose and crazy, like when the four girls dance to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in a hotel room. Girlhood doesn’t go out of its way to make any overt political statements about race, poverty, or the aftermath of colonialism; instead it is an intelligent, deeply moving story of one girl who is unwilling to sacrifice her power and settle for less than what she wants. The film is screening at FIAF on April 26 at 4:00 and 7:30, with the later showing introduced by DJ Bearcat.

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