Close-Up Film’s double-header interview with the director and lead actress of the female coming-of-age film Girlhood, in cinemas 8th May.
The interviews were separate but are combined below for continuity. Céline Sciamma directed Tomboy (2011) and Water Lilies (2007) while Karidja Touré is on debut.
CUF: Is there a deliberate reference to Linklater’s Boyhood, in your decision to choose Girlhood as the translation of the French release title Bande De Filles?
Celine: No, I picked the international title and I didn’t know Boyhood existed at the time, then Boyhood got out and so I looked, like, cynical to get the attention but it’s totally by chance. (She smiles mischievously).
CUF: Do you think it’s turned out to be an advantage?
Celine: I don’t know if it’s an advantage but I think that the two movies are quite cool to be compared actually… and they believe exactly the same thing; that watching somebody grow is cinema, but [Richard Linklater] actually watched someone grow for 12 years and I fake watching somebody grow for 36 days. (Again, she smiles, shrugging her shoulders in this admittance). He stresses that the universal character is the middle class white boy, which is true. And we stress the individual character should be a 16 year old black girl from the French suburbs, so politically I think if I was a journalist I would like to compare both films.
CUF: Karidja, do you remember that first day when the casting crew came to seek their actors?
Karidja: I remember it was a casting in Sauvage. I was in an amusement park that takes part in April and May in Paris where I met Hector who spots me in the street and talks about Céline and her next movie and she tells me they were looking for someone like me for the lead actress. She gave me a number and I called her back and they chose me for the film.
CUF: How have you and the film been received from your perspective?
Karidja: We had a Q and A with Céline and I really liked it because [you] see what [people] think of the movie and the performance and people were very, very kind and say you were a wonderful actress but I don’t fully recognise like this.
CUF: How did you feel about seeing your face on cinema screens?
Karidja: At the beginning when I saw my face I don’t really watch the film and listen to the story. I was looking at me, what I’m doing with my face or why I’m walking like that. It was really watching the film for my face and the second time it was looking at the faces of the other actresses, we were making fun of each other and the last time we were really watching the characters and the story and enjoying it and being proud of what we have done.
CUF: Where do you go from here? Do you hope to pursue a career in acting?
Karidja: I would love to continue in that way I love this experience. Thanks to this film now I have an agent who helped me with casting but haven’t worked with any other directors but I hope it will come.
CUF: Celine, in your opinion, what does the look of conviction on Marieme’s face signify in the final frame of the film?
Celine: The final frame is… she lets go, she cries, then we leave her aside and watch that blurry horizon for about 10 seconds, so obviously we’re expecting the credits to come up but she goes back in the frame and has no more tears and she just lives, and she has this strong determined look and [she goes] back in the frame… when she’s not expected to. I think she’s just left behind childhood and teenage-hood. It’s about who she’s becoming and she’s determined to go on. It’s a contrast between two states – that interested me. The fact that she’s let go for the first time – we never see her cry in the film, she lets go and she’s more determined than ever.
Karidja: For me, it’s like she knows she has made some good choice, some bad choice. She’s not ready to go back to the family. She cries for the last time then she’s stronger. She really knows what she wants to do in her life and I think all her past came out and she think a lot about of thing and she cry for the last time. For me I can imagine all the best for her maybe go back to school and have a job after two year after to go back to her friends and family. It’s for everyone to think what they want of the character.
CUF: Marieme changes as she adapts to difficulties in her life. Are you exposing this as a problem, or celebrating her attempts to overcome them?
Celine: Well, I don’t know. None of those two things. I guess it’s about what she experiences and she goes through – those several identities. She’s not inventing them… putting up with what society has designed for her in different areas. She could be a shy girl playing by the book, this strong feminine figure and the centre of the group. She could be one of the boys or she could be totally different in the end. So yes, she overcomes, but each step she tries out the hypothesis and the power it gives her and what she loses. It’s a kind of superhero, what power does the costume give her?
CUF: Can you explain the different parts of her character as they change throughout the film?
Celine: We worked a lot around those stages with the costume she would [wear]: different shoes when she was a boy, she would lower her voice. Each time it’s a radical change and none of them wins. None of them are best. Even, I guess, we miss the friendship but it’s not about what’s best or what’s worst, it’s about going through it and actually escaping.
CUF: Were you surprised how terrifying Karidja could be, for instance the time she hustles a fellow student?
Celine: I knew she was solid. The thing that really surprises me is how constant she was. She was never bad, she’s very accurate, she’s not going through these emotional states where she’s becoming unstable or you can’t rely [on her]. You really can relate to her. Each day it was like wow, she’s steady.
CUF: Karidja, was it difficult to stay in each of those aspects of Marieme? What helped you separate them out?
Karidja: Not really. It was a little bit natural and Céline was really guiding me a lot and I think the different clothes make me really ‘in’ my character. Sometimes I play the three characters in the same day but when I have different haircut and different clothes it helped me a lot in what to do. She just had to direct me and I followed her.
CUF: Marieme’s boyfriend is the only detailed and therefore sympathetic male character. Is this a comment on generality and stereotypes? Is it a judgement on masculinity?
Celine: Yes, he’s a very gentle figure and in the second scene of the film when they get home and they’re very loud and suddenly they need to shut down because they’re going to ‘the neighbourhood’ and you can see the shadows of men, like a threat or like guardians, then suddenly at the end of the road there’s this boy and she smiles and she likes him so it’s all about the idea of men can be archetypes in their fantasies or they can be threatening because they have the power but within the intimacy they can be partners.
The movie tries not to stress one point, it’s trying show layers within the characters and in between them. Not to say this is ‘like that,’ but we’re experimenting with contrast and the paradox of the character and yes, he’s a very sweet figure. He’s actually the only sweet masculine figure. He’s the only [male] with a goal. The only one with a desire, the only one we get intimate with. The other ones are just objectified, they’re not characters and we’re not used to that as usually women are objectified in films. If you watch a film and there’s this beautiful blonde going into the room, you go, oh she’s a bitch and everyone’s gonna complain about the archetypes because its cinema. This is cinema too and we see [Marieme’s] brother [in this archetypal role], we only see him [as] power and attitude. He’s not a character, he’s a figure. The lover is the only male character actually.
CUF: The dream sequence of Rhianna’s ‘Diamonds’ is stunning! Can you explain how it came together?
Celine: Well, it’s really a scene that was so easy to write. I didn’t think ‘would it be blue or would it be naturalistic’. In the first draft the scene it just happened. Its part of this group of scenes that make you do a film. ‘I’m gonna shoot that scene and that’s it’. It was designed for blue lighting for Rhianna’s song and it was one of those scenes you don’t know where they come from but they are perfect in your head and you hope to make them as intense on the screen.
CUF: Did you think about the implication that it arises from drug and alcohol use?
Celine: No, I never thought of that. To me, this long hotel scene is a long ride for the character[s] where we can see all the versatility of their personalities. They really tried playing with dresses and then they can be teenagers getting high and then suddenly they’re iconic divas and it’s about those contrasts so it’s not a consequence [in that way]
CUF: Karidja, as a scouted actress representative of the France depicted, had she encountered any of the same social/political barriers as her character…
Karidja: Yes, at the beginning of the film when the teachers say to her that she has to work and doesn’t have to continue to study but Marianne wanted to continue. It’s something that happened in my real life. My French teacher didn’t want me to go the next level of study. We have two ways: the professional level or the work level. The good students go professional and all the black and Arabic students go one way and the white go another way. I was very happy to show that on the film. In the shopping with friends, the guards want to follow us, they love to follow us and I don’t know why It’s something that also happened in my life.
It was very important, very excited that everybody know it happens in real life, the same for the brother problem it didn’t happen to me but I know they have brothers telling them what to do. Not all the big brothers is doing that but it does exist so it was important to show.
Celine: Well, the part where she confronts herself to ‘society which is school’ and in the shopping mall where she’s followed by the security girl. Those are kinds of racism that the movie actually shows an official case of discrimination and then the whole journey is sort of a mix of being kind of poor, working class and also black and also a girl and also living in that place – it’s all like that (Céline knits her fingers together to indicate her two hands forming one whole)
I pointed out to Céline that I had looked at the gender ratio of the journalists on her agenda that day…
CUF: What do you think it ‘says’ if there are proportionally far more female journalists interested in interviewing you than male ones?
Celine: I don’t know. Doesn’t it mean that a lot of women are becoming journalists? Well, I never thought of that. I don’t design it so that it would talk more to a female audience but the fact that a female audience responds to it strongly actually tells the lack of strong female character[s], the lack of representation and the urge as a journalist to step up for the film and help its promotion. I hope it doesn’t mean that the men are not interested. Men can actually have the experience of being a girl for two hours. For all our whole [lives]… [women] have had the experience of men on screen – so it’s a good thing that you can do the same [by seeing more female-centric films].
Thank you to Celine and Karidja. Girlhood is in cinemas 8th May, 2015.