The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Céline Sciamma's films are delicate and emotional examinations of, to quote Madonna, "what it feels like for a girl." Sciamma has directed three features thus far: "Water Lilies," "Tomboy," and now "Girlhood" and each one takes on a different sliver of the spectrum of adolescent or pre-adolescent girlhood. Girls are not a monolith, they are not all the same, they are not "the other," although you'd never know it considering some of the films out there. It takes an intuitive and devoted filmmaker like Sciamma to go beneath the surface of "girlhood", to remove the normal trappings, and to look at all of the different forces and influences in play. "Girlhood," her latest, is a powerful and entertaining film about a gang of girls, and what friendship means, the protection it provides.
"Girlhood" follows Marieme (the extraordinary Karidja Touré) through her 16th year. She lives in a big housing project, and is the main caretaker of her younger sister. Her grades are poor and she is being pushed to transfer to a technical school and learn a trade. Her mother (Binta Diop) works so many jobs she is never around, and Marieme has to answer to her brother (Cyril Mendy), who is downright abusive. Marieme is a sweet and shy girl, her hair falling down her back in braids. One day three tough Rizzo-types, lolling on the bleachers, summon her over to their pow-wow. Their motivations aren't clear at first. Marieme seems much younger than these glamour girls, all of whom wear long straight weaves, identical gold necklaces, and red lipstick. The cliche is that the "bad girls" will "corrupt" the good girl. But Sciamma is up to something different, thank goodness.
These three girls are Lady (the wonderful Assa Sylla), the leader of the pack, and the two humorous underlings, Fily (Mariétou Touré) and Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh). They need a "fourth" to round out their group. They're trouble-makers, engaged in fighting with another group of girls; nothing too serious, just a lot of screaming insults across train platforms. Marieme enters the group dynamic: the four girls hustle, they shop-lift, they book hotel rooms and eat pizza. The gang of girls do not initiate Marieme into a dangerous world of drugs and sex. No, the tough girls initiate her into a world of belonging, of fun trash-talk, an environment where she can let loose, try on makeup and a different hairstyle (for her friends' benefit, not for any romantic prospect's benefit), and experiment a little bit with identity. The new persona might not "fit" Marieme, ultimately, but she's 16 years old. She's figuring it out.
Life is tough out there, and the girls are aware of it. There are pimp-type guys starting to show interest in them, circling like sharks. There are judgmental fathers and brothers, who shame the girls for growing up, for wanting to stretch their wings a little bit, sexually. Marieme starts to date, tentatively, a boy she's known forever, named Ismaël (Idrissa Diabaté). Their scenes together offer a sweet space where both can allow themselves to be tender, in contrast to the closed-up toughness required in their larger world. They click. But it feels precarious. The girls watch their friends get knocked up and, for all intents and purposes, vanish from the world. They don't want that for themselves. They want … something else, something more. Freedom. Liberty. To be left alone.