“Girlhood” is a coming-of-age story, with a lens to typical problems at home and school. The film looks at new friendships and first love, but portrays this with some risk and recklessness that come with the turmoils of adolescence. Poverty, crime, tensions with male authority and social marginality are central to the film narrative. And there is wonderful play with gender, where femininity and masculinity move around in interesting and complex ways.
The first shot of the movie is of a football game — the American kind. It’s surprising because as a French film, we expect soccer. Another surprise is that all the football players are girls, mostly of Franco-African descent. They are residents of a high-rise housing complex on the outskirts of Paris. So right from the start, before the plot has gotten underway, “Girlhood” insists that the world will not conform to easy categories or lazy expectations.
The story follows one of these young athletes, Marieme, as she finds her way as a student, daughter, sister and friend navigating a tough life on outskirts of Paris. Among other things, “Girlhood” is another socially conscious drama about the choices facing a tough, intelligent, basically decent young person in a world that views her with indifference and suspicion. It’s worth noting that the state, which usually shows up in French movies in the form of the police, the educational system or the strongly implied ideals of the Republic, is barely present here. Its absence increases the sense that Vic and her friends are alone and vulnerable, safe and valued only in the uneasy cocoon they weave together.
While the movie has a lot to say about the general condition of being a girl, in the Paris banlieues (suburbs) and elsewhere, it never loses sight of the specific girl at its heart.