Céline Sciamma’s third film Bande de Filles, or, the cumbersomely translated Girlhood, begins with two powerful, contrasting images. It opens on the unusual, unbridled sight of a group of girls playing American football, hurtling their padded bodies into one another and across the goal line. Post-game, Sciamma follows them through an outer Parisian housing complex as they yammer on, a gloriously energized cacophony of adolescence. The instant the film’s first male figure is glimpsed in the corner of the frame, however, they all fall silent. It’s a jarring, immediate adherence to the kinds of social codes Sciamma has teased apart since 2006’s Water Lilies.
With Girlhood, Sciamma tackles a slightly older age bracket as she charts the stymied growth of Marieme (Karidja Touré), a sensitive, moral teenager who is drawn into the orbit of three boisterous schoolmates. With an abusive older brother, an absentee mother, two younger sisters, and a poor collegiate track record, Marieme doesn’t so much come of age as seek a way out of her apparent trajectory. I spoke to Sciamma about the political underpinnings of personal cinema, and why she was intent on portraying an ensemble of black women. Girlhood is currently playing at the Village East and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.