Bande de Filles: Girlhood Identities in Contemporary France
By Frances Smith
Recommended by Hélène B. Ducros
In Bande de Filles: Girlhood Identities in Contemporary France, Frances Smith focuses on French film writer Céline Sciamma’s 2014 Bande de Filles (titled Girlhood in English) and its depiction of the ways in which black girls in the eastern outskirts of Paris come of age today, in a space that has been mostly portrayed as masculine until now. Smith shows that the film provides a propitious opportunity to critically explore how girl characters negotiate friendships, family relationships, violence, their education, their changing bodies and sexual identities, and their place in the city and society-at-large, as they try to hold their balance in their transition into adulthood. Smith’s goal is also to explain the social and cinema industry contexts in which the film emerged within contemporary France, as well as offer a deep reading of filmic textual elements. While discussing the impact the film has had in giving a place to black girls in French cinema―from which they had been typically absent―the book also examines the role and expectations of audiences, drawing some differences between American and French teen movies. As she emphasizes the importance of Bandes de Filles for a better understanding of the construction of individual girls’ identities, Smith also points to the ways in which group identity and othering play a role in parallel to the shaping of a transnational “girlhood” where music, dance, and common aesthetics create bonds and emulations. As the liminality of girls’ identities is unveiled, the book introduces the idea of adolescent gender fluidity, encouraging a reflection on the manners in which the movie’s characters undergo changes in their physical appearances (hair, clothing, body) and operate as “shapeshifters” who can easily and quickly change identities. Not only is Smith’s book a stimulating investigation of Sciamma’s oeuvre, but it should also more widely serve as an effective model for film analysis, as it provides useful tools to put the context of production in a two-way dialogue with the movie’s characters and narratives. Moreover, by showing how relevant this film genre is to delving into the politics of representation in the media industry, the book succeeds in giving new meaning and significance to still maturing academic fields such as youth film studies and girl studies.