Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available at Redbox or VOD. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
No, Girlhood is not a companion piece to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. While they might share some contextual similarities—both tell stories of struggling youths—they couldn’t be more different. Girlhood is set in suburban Paris and follows young Marieme, a disaffected teen who has non-existent parents, a culture and neighborhood ruled by boys, and no prospects for high school, much less college. She begs her counselor to let her go to high school even though her grades are low and she vows to do better; her counselor replies curtly and it cuts hard: “It’s too late for that.” Faced with the bleak prospect of going to vocational school, Marieme teams up with a group of free-spirited, independent, fighting, shoplifting girls. You know where this is going. But maybe we don’t.
The film is real, affecting, alternately heartbreaking and uplifting. The dialogue seems perfectly real, and at times we feel like we’re watching a documentary; if not for the beautiful cinematography, the biting screenplay, the intense acting, and the sheen of the bleak settings, we might be watching a documentary. Yet this is a professionally crafted, acted, shot, and executed fictional film that tells the story of young black girls struggling to make it, and find themselves, in this world.
There are two scenes in particular that are absolutely exhilarating—opposite in their content, yet both filled with real emotion and energy. One shows the girls, dancing and celebrating their togetherness. The other is singular and more brutal, yet we cheer for Marieme anyway. Both scenes soar.
Director Céline Sciamma is downright brilliant. Her first two films, Water Lilies and Tomboy, were both intimate and emotional portrayals of young girls at different stages of adolescence. Girlhood follows her project of the first two films and expands her oeuvre, adding in the sociological forces effecting young girls. The ensemble cast of teens is phenomenal, led by Karidja Touré as Marieme. This is one of those gems you do not want to miss, a film that opens our eyes to the world and changes our perceptions about things we thought we knew. I also think it is a must-see for teens. Go see it.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Thirteen, Pariah, and/or Blue is the Warmest Color. Starts at the Sie Film Center on 4/3.
The Drop (2014)
A few months ago I wrote about Tom Hardy’s performance in Locke, and how it was a virtuoso, star-making turn. His follow-up to that film is The Drop, directed by Michael R. Roskam and also starring James Gandolfini in his final role. The film is a small mob thriller based in Brooklyn, and Hardy plays a soft-spoken bartender caught up in the middle of a mob deal gone bad. There is also a love story. Here, Hardy’s performance is soft-spoken and understated—the opposite of his role in Locke. This performance again cements him as one of the world’s leading actors.
The setting is one of the characters: this is not the pretty Brooklyn portrayed in the contemporary press: there is no Jay Z. and Beyoncé sitting courtside at a basketball game, no pretty people who have moved from Manhattan, no little girls named “Brooklyn.” This is a dirty, cloudy, cold, and unforgiving Brooklyn, one that recalls a working-class New York of the past. In addition, there are neither Italian Mafia nor African-American gangs. In fact, the ruling gang is Chechen (not Chechneyan, asGandolfini’s Ray is corrected by Hardy’s Bob).
The film is semi-hypnotic, an odd quality for what is really a mob thriller. The direction and the acting pull this off with such great skill that we barely notice. Tom Hardy is brilliant, James Gandolfini is perfect, and the supporting cast headed by Noomi Rapace holds their own against such acting giants. As I’ve said before on these pages, the mark of a great film and great direction shows up in the secondary characters, and they are all up to the task. And though only Roskam’s second film, he shows that he is a competent director of actors, story, and visuals. All are first-rate. Oh yeah, and there’s a puppy.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Killing Them Softly, Locke, and/or Eastern Promises. Available on most VOD outlets and at Redbox.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.