Early this year, I saw Céline Sciamma's Girlhood - or Bande à filles as is its original French title. Sciamma's film is about a young girl, Marieme (Karidja Touré) and her awakening to adulthood in the suburbs of Paris. The film starts with her leaving school, although she is a responsible daughter and eldest sister. Marieme gets involved with a group of "bad girls". She changes her name to Vic and engages in a series of small adventures, gradually getting further from her home and family and falling deeper into the black hole of young adulthood. All the while she is surrounded by indifference and violence, tired mums and dominant males, her only place of refuge being the sisterhood within the group of girls.
What seems to me is that Sciamma is making her point very clearly: this is a film situated on a new wave. And what surprises me is that so few critics seem to have picked up on this. Because the film's title clearly alludes to a film from the famous nouvelle vague era: Bande à part by Jean-Luc Godard, made in 1965. That was a movie where the male outsider shone, just like in Francois Truffaut's melancholy Les 400 coups from a few years early, the film that inaugurated the new wave in 1959. Like so many other big divides in culture and history, those filmes were about how HE carries on in the world while SHE is something to use, to throw away if necessary, a toy at best.
This new wave in contemporary cinema is about seeing people in the cracks of society, those that easily get fotgotten, and particularly those who are not white or male.
What I like about Sciamma's film is that men are just as naturally ignored in Bande à filles as are women in the older French new wave. There is a scene where the girls, there are four of them, have stolen some clothes and get all dressed up. They are in a hotel room, enjoying the temporary luxury, and for a while I am afraid that they will do what girls normally do (in movies): they make themselves look nice so that men will want them. But instead, they stay in the hotel room and dance to a song by Rihanna. It's a lovely scene, filled with warmth and hope. Here is a group of young women who will make it together, finding strength and purpose in each other. Not as rivals in the battle over men, but as friends.
It gets complicated, of course, and friendship is tested. In the end, Vic is alone, standing outside her apartment, where her family lives. For a moment, it looks like she will be going back. But then she just walks out of the frame - and there the film ends. What will happen to Vic?
This ending reminds me of the end of Les 400 coups, the famous ending where Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) has run away from correctional school and finally reaches the sea. Then he looks back at us, the camera, and the picture freezes. He is young and alone but strong and capable. His look is very fierce.
Marieme is just like him. She is a new version of everything that we admired in Antoine Doinel. So I am sure: she will make it.
My skinny sister is about the beautiful, successful Katja, who is close to becoming a skating star, and her little sister Stella, who is her opposite in everything. Katja performs beautfifully on the ice, and Stella watches in silent awe, her jealousy quietly growing. Stella tries very hard to be a ice skating queen too, and is told that she might do something else better. But she won't quit, besides, she is secretely in love with Katja's English trainer. Still, the sisters are very close, enjoying moments of teasing and laughter in their comfortable middle class home. So why does Katja get so ill? Why does she become anorectic and forces her sister to keep her secret until it is nearly too late?
My skinny sister doesn't answer the question why. It doesn't offer analysis or explanations about how or why a perfect young woman in a perfect world decides to starve herself to death. The film just shows us how a family goes to pieces. The beauty of the film is how it also presents us with clues to how the family hopefully will piece themselves together again - the main clues being love and sisterhood.
And what is so beautiful is that the love that matters is the one between Katja and Stella - more than the parental love, or the hesitant nice reactions from school, friends or even Katja's trainer. The sisters meet in rivalry, anger, sadness, despair and joy. They stay close, no matter what, and it's this persistence, this strong bond between them, that I believe will eventually lead Katja to recover.
Of course, another thing that shines from this film is the marvelous performance by two very young actresses: Amy Deasismont playing Katja, and Rebecka Josephson playing Stella. Just like with Jean-Pierre Léaud and Karidja Touré, one watches these young faces with a sense of watching a miracle. The miracle of growing, of understanding what life is about.
There have been some other great moments of sisterhood on the movie screen this year, like Spy and Mad Max and Still Alice - and yet another Swedish film: The Circle. But now, I'm waiting for Carol and Maud, the first is of course the film where Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara fall in love, the second where Carey Mulligan plays Maud, a woman who becomes a Suffragette: "Cast off the shadow of yeaterday..."