Unable to deal with her oppressive family and lack of educational prospects, 16-year old Marieme joins a gang of free-spirited girls. Changing her name and lifestyle, Marieme (now Vic) grows in self-confidence; but the deeper she gets embedded into this new life, the difficulties continue to mount.

For the umpteenth time, French cinema has imported another piece of brilliant cinema with Girlhood. By showing a side of Paris not really seen on an international level, writer/director Celine Sciamma has created a film that feels fresh and unsettling. The city is as much a character in the movie as the actors, with the tenement blocks and glaring street lights adding to the oppressive ambience.

What really sticks out in the movie is the complete lack of adult presence in the movie. 95% of the film is made up of children and young people – adults are mentioned but rarely seen, except in rare and brief moments. It’s a subtle but effective way of showing just how neglected and forgotten these children have become. It’s the lack of proper adult authority that has led Marieme down this path and, ultimately, where she eventually ends up. The final scene is brilliantly ambiguous, leaving what could be seen as a downbeat ending with a strong sliver of hope.

Comparisons can definitely be made to City of God, with the two films sharing many themes. The lack of adults is one of those, but the biggest similarity is the use of non-actors. The entire cast of this movie is made up of non-actors plucked from the streets of Paris, and the result is astounding. Some of the secondary performances aren’t always great as a result; but what you do get in lieu of that is something altogether more raw and realistic. Karidja Toure (as Vic) and Assa Sylla (as Lady, leader of the gang and mentor to Vic) are by far the two stand-out performances. Toure, in particular, is tremendous in the lead role. How she evolves from hopeless girl to independent young woman is beautifully portrayed, and she deserves big kudos for that.

Girlhood is without doubt this generation’s version of City of God, showing the new side of a city through the eyes of vulnerable children. And like that film the best thing about this film is that, laved within this harsh and unsettling film, there are moments of real beauty. If just for the magical song and dance sequence within the first hour of the film, this is one you need to go out of your way to see.