Friday, 21 November 2014

A scene from Girlhood (2014)

Girlhood (Bande de filles, Céline Sciamma 2014) takes place in the banlieues at the outskirts of Paris, among concrete and poverty. It is focused on the teenage girl Marieme who joins a little group of three other girls, much tougher than Marieme is, but she quickly becomes one of them, becomes like them, and even tougher in the end. In the process she takes on a new name, Vic. Their lives are hard, and it is a rough and uncompromising environment to grow up in, with bullying and street fights part of the routine.

At one point the four girls, with stolen money and stolen, pretty, clothes, check in to a nice hotel. They come to their room, play around on the big bed, and change into their new, nice clothes. They also put on make-up and make themselves as pretty as they can. Not for anyone else's benefit, but for their own sake. Then they start to sing and dance to a song by Rihanna, Diamonds. And the shot lasts the entire song.

This sequence is without a doubt the best I have seen all year, as energetic as it is immensely moving. It is so moving because even though their life is often shit, here, at this very minute, and with the help of Rihanna's song (which could be about them) everything is perfect and life is pure joy, a bubble of happiness, that is all theirs. The grading makes everything look blue, so in all aspects this scene stands out from the rest of the film.

Eye to eye, so alive
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky

The scene was more or less improvised, and the girls, who are not actors but ordinary girls living in these neighbourhoods, just did what came natural to them when they came into the room. Sciamma had only decided beforehand that they would be in a hotel room, and had also managed to get the rights to use Rihanna's song. And no matter what it might have cost, it was worth it. The power and the exuberance of the scene is not only deeply moving, but also intoxicating, and a perfect example of the power of music and how it helps people bond and connect. Music can set you free and sharing a song together is about as powerful as it gets, and screw the rest of the world.

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Marieme / Vic is played by Karidja Touré. The cinematographer of Girlhood is Crystel Fournier and it is Céline Sciamma's third film. The other two are Water Lilies (Naissance des pieuvres 2007), which is fine but somewhat conventional and hesitant, and Tomboy (2011), which is exceptional and the best of the three.

Here is an article about one such banlieue, Sevran, which you pass through if you take the train from Charles de Gaulle airport to get into Paris.

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