Celine Sciamma: A Retrospective

By Orla Smith

Sometimes, doing the bare minimum can have the best results.

That’s not true in every aspect of life – it’s probably not the best advice to give to a student with a homework assignment – but when it comes to minimalist filmmaking, Celine Sciamma has found her niche and she’s working it.

The French auteurs’ films work best when they’re taking things out of the frame. Each one depicts different childhoods in France, and (in ‘Tomboy’ especially) those childhoods are painted in simple colours. Her films are lean, but they pack a punch because they contain only the essentials. Plainness of the frame highlights a smile here, a shift in posture there. It directs your focus and contrasts the simple innocence of childhood with the burgeoning complexities of personhood.

These aesthetics get more experimental in her most recent ‘Girlhood’, leading to the question: what will Sciamma do next? And when will she be considered in the big leagues of France’s leading filmmakers? With ‘My Life as a Courgette’, a film she penned but did not direct, having hit UK cinemas last Friday, I’ve taken a look at the three features she’s directed over the past decade of her career, each one progressing in quality and confidence, and suggesting limitless possibilities for the future.

  1. Water Lilies (2007)

‘Water Lilies’ is very much a debut, but Sciamma’s clear-eyed, unflinching vision demonstrated her promise from the start. Following one teenage girls’ obsession with another, the film sets itself apart in the moments when it dares to show the less romantic moments of a girl’s first crush. Sciamma’s frankness is bracing.

  1. Tomboy (2011)

‘Tomboy’ is her most perfect movie, clocking in at 82 minutes and not wasting a single second. The film feels radical in that it presents its pre-teen protagonist’s questioning of their gender identity without forcing them to come up with any definitive answers. It’s a refreshingly non-judgemental film that lets its protagonist’s self discovery involve just as much joy as it does doubt.

  1. Girlhood (2015)

Celine Sciamma loosened up in ‘Girlhood’, and it resulted in one of the most beautiful sequences of the past few years: the girl gang that our shy heroine Marieme (later christened Vic) has joined books a hotel room, and reality breaks for a second as they sing and dance to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ together, Marieme at first looking on alone, and throughout the song allowing herself to finally break free of her shell and become a part of the gang, dancing with a carefree abandon that is new to her. Karidja Toure’s breakout performance is astonishing, portraying a truly moving coming of age that values female friendship over all.

Women’s Wednesday is a regular series celebrating the work of female film directors throughout film history

 

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