As traditional patterns of upbringing break down, and kids are moved along according to everyone's instincts, it's possible for a young person's development to follow an untraditional path that is tragic for its consequences but also completely natural and a revelation about human nature. A girl named Vic in 2015's Bande de Filles (literally "Gang of Girls", released in English speaking countries as "Girlhood") is one such misfit. Director Celine Sciamma with this film may be the heiress to Nicholas Ray, Karidja Toure as Vic the heiress to James Dean or Marlon Brando in this modern troubled youth and gang film that nicely explores the life of a young woman who can't conform to the gender norms that are breaking down even as people are still shamed and punished for them.
The film opens with a scene that neatly presents this new world--teenage girls playing American style football. And not as a novelty, these young women are really into it, the victors gleefully celebrating. Marieme, who later becomes known as Vic, is not allowed to continue in this life, however, as flunking the same year three times means she's not allowed to continue on to high school. It's the football for which she's received all the positive reinforcement but it's being kicked out of school that brings her so much shame she won't admit to it at home.
So she spends the time she was supposed to be spending at school hanging out with other young people in a similar situation and eventually joins a gang. There are four of them, and one of them mentions to Marieme, whom they rename Vic, that there had been another fourth member who was forced to leave the gang because she got pregnant. These gangs apparently limit themselves to four members but also, crucially, we learn from this that having a baby precludes women from membership.
Vic lives with her mother, two little sisters, and her physically abusive older brother. Her mother doesn't have much time at home, her work as a cleaning women, with which Vic sometimes assists, keeps her busy so mostly Vic's brother is in charge. When he hears that Vic has beaten up another girl in a one on one fight, the two bond over football video games. When he finds out she had sex with a guy, he calls her a slut and he beats her.
Who knows how he'd react if he'd known how that sex went down, in which Vic was clearly the dominant partner, ordering her boyfriend to strip after she'd won the fight as though he was her prize. The film presents this pattern again and again--Vic being rewarded for transgressing gender norms and then being punished at the same time.
Vic might be transgender--towards the end of the film she begins to dress more like a man but the impression I had was more that she simply had a different idea of what it means to be a woman than the oddly hovering cultural prescription. She and the other members of her gang buy clothes and try them on with each other, dancing and lip syncing to Rihanna. It's not a case of someone abjuring everything pertaining to one gender and adopting the other, Vic finds herself drawn to aspects of both and the people around her encourage her. There emerges a plain practical problem in this as it essentially leaves her without a future as she's unable to accept or is barred from all opportunities and social acceptance. But the film doesn't present Vic as simply a product of her environment, rather she is a particular sort of person who was allowed to blossom in this environment.
Twitter Sonnet #820
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