As newcomers to the screen, these young French actors grasp their respective roles so tightly it almost feels like a documentary at certain points. Their vulnerability and vivacity comes across most strongly in their language, where often the braggadocio flows unfettered. Each of these actors, especially Touré, live so openly in front of the lens that it is difficult not to identify with them, to warm to them so instantly because the feeling they've been kin all along is so strong here. Despite its setting within the Parisian housing projects and featuring an all black cast directed by an older white woman, there is no gender or racial pandering or bias present. Sciamma manages to carefully walk the hair-thin line between social realism and social tropes. She doesn't shy away from some cultural truths (virginal purity, outer appearance as a critical feature, dominant male figures) within a racial context but she doesn't present previously drawn notions.
Sciamma lets these young girls live and breathe in their own truth and discovery; she lets them revel in their girlhood. The film is broken into four movements, each presenting a different phase of Marieme's evolution. Each act is full of some truly beautiful moments. At one point, the girls rent a hotel room, get dressed up, drink and blare Rihanna's Diamonds and for three minutes they dance and since with abandon. Poignant moments amidst the rough ones (watching Marieme shrivel under her brother's dominating hand is particularly heartbreaking) make Girlhood shine bright. In another moment, Lady christens Marieme with the nickname Vic (for "victory"). Watching Marieme find her own victory over her circumstances is a treat; don't miss the chance to watch her do so.
Allie Gemmill | @alliegem