As teenagers, music often plays a pivotal role in our lives. While an adult identity gradually begins to take shape, music sonically illustrates the ever-growing complexity of our emotional lives, giving voice to our desires and insecurities and helping us to make sense of the world around us. Brought to life on the silver screen through pounding beats, glossy visuals and naturalistic movements, Céline Sciamma’s third feature-length film, Bande de Filles (titled Girlhood in English) reaches through the screen, encouraging its spectator to recall and connect to these sensations themselves.
Girlhood centres around 16-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré) as she traverses the intimacy, isolation and performativity of teenage life in the projects of Paris. About to begin a vocational training course, Marieme is suddenly whisked into the intense and free-spirited lifestyle of an all-girl gang composed of Lady (Assa Sylla), Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Mariétou Touré). She alters her dress code and engages in inter-gang rivalries with her new friends, yearning for acceptance and freedom.
A profoundly captivating and moving scene occurs not quite halfway through the film, wherein the girls, having saved enough money for a night together in a luxurious hotel room, dance along to Rihanna’s song, “Diamonds.” The central role of music in teenage life and its ability to generate a euphoric sense of togetherness is beautifully captured in this music video-like sequence, serving as both a statement of the girls’ friendship and an indulgent departure from their everyday lives.
The first shot of the scene is awash with neon blue, bathing Lady’s downcast face in a heavy veil of colour. As she lifts her gaze, it burns directly into the camera, holding us. Miming the lyrics to “Diamonds,” Adiatou and Fily soon join her as the camera tracks out and they enter the frame. Their hands intertwine and their bodies sway with the music, heads are thrown back in exaltation. The scene is simultaneously naturalistic and cinematic: the spontaneous movements of the girls combined with the highly-stylised lighting and wide aspect ratio make for a wholly unique experience, elevating what could be a brief and inconsequential moment of fun between friends into something more.
Marieme watches the unfolding scene from the hotel bed, her face aglow with fascination and hope, partially illuminated in the radiance of the blue light. As the camera pushes slowly in, we sense that an invisible force — perhaps Marieme’s desire to be a part of the group — is attracting her to the dancing figures, and finally she is drawn in to their blue, carefree bubble. In this moment, Marieme transforms from passive to active, from watcher to participant. Indeed, the same can be said about viewers of Girlhood — we, too, are invited to actively engage with the scene.
This scene is not only a temporary moment of elation for the characters, but one that transcends traditional filmic boundaries to also involve the viewer. In light of the wide popularity and public familiarity with Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” Sciamma’s decision to include it in this scene connects her film to what Isabelle McNeill describes as “a widely accessible pop cultural landscape” (327), transcending fictional confinement and “destabilis[ing] diegetic space” (332) to generate a unique resonance in the spectator.
This scene from Girlhood serves as a fleeting opportunity for the girls to escape from the endless complications of life, momentarily transcend the fact that their identities are routinely marginalised as black women, and cherish a moment of intimacy and joy. As Sciamma herself stated in an interview, “that’s the time that they love each other, and it’s the moment where you actually love them.” Additionally, the decision to film the scene in sync with a chart-topping song popular at the time of the film’s release encourages spectators to relate the moment with their own journey through teenage life, and the role of music as a catalyst for communal bliss.
In the words of Isabelle McNeill, “the scene reminds us of the shared, evanescent and infinite possibilities of music as a formative experience” (339). Amid a film concerned with performative constructions of womanhood and the role of peripheral forces shaping and limiting one’s experience, this brief but unforgettable scene truly is a “vision of ecstasy” not only for Marieme and her friends, but for us as well.
McNeill, Isabelle. 2018. “‘Shine Bright Like a Diamond’: music, performance and digitextuality in Céline Sciamma’s Bande de Filles (2014).” Studies in French Cinema 18 (4): 326–340.