Girl had its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival and is currently awaiting a nationwide release date.
Adura Onsashile makes her directorial debut with a confident sense of mood and humanity with Girl. A film dripping with atmosphere and rich with social commentary, its ability to grip the audience with its sheer sincerity is reason alone to celebrate its strength. Yet, as a feature debut, it demonstrates considerable skill on a number of fronts.
Single mother Grace (Deborah Lukumuena) lives in Glasgow with her 11-year-old daughter Ama (Le’Shantey Bonsu), both likely refugees based on the snippets we can piece together of their past. Grace is adamant about giving Ama a good life but is tired, stressed, and struggling to manage. She constantly tells her daughter to trust no one and that they should keep to themselves. But as Ama nears puberty, she challenges Grace’s philosophy and boundaries.
The mother-daughter relationship is one criminally underexplored, even in contemporary cinema. Onsashile and her team not only portray this dynamic tenderly but with deep nuance. Grace and Ama are in a strange place, alone with only each other for protection. Despite seemingly fleeing somewhere far worse, Grace is all too aware of the dangers for her and her child; therefore, her instinct is to keep Ama indoors as often as possible, away from anything or anyone who may harm her. But when Ama spots a fire in the nearby high-rise flats, she alerts the neighbourhood saving everyone in the building. This action leads to a new friendship blossoming with a young girl who lives on the same block, Fiona (Liana Turner).
Ama’s new connection and an irregular placement in the local primary school open up a new life for the young girl. But at the same time, Grace wants to keep Ama to herself, knowing that the more attention she draws to them, the more social services will show an interest in their lives.
Girl captures the anxiety and wonder of each character’s internal worlds, insecurities, fears and hopes. Filmed on location in Glasgow’s city centre and south side, everyday sites such as Buchanan Galleries seem cold and menacing to Grace, with the handheld approach of the cinematography only further heightening the unease. Meanwhile, there is a sense of giddiness to the scenes where Ama and Fiona connect as they run around Glasgow’s south side. Equally, moments expressing Ama’s journey into puberty demonstrate how time waits for no one as Fiona attempts to reassure her that all is fine. The camerawork in these moments is delicate and heartfelt, beautifully capturing Ama’s slow but inevitable transformation into adulthood.
While the title seems standard, it alludes to the film’s core theme – as youth is traded in for womanhood by the unbiased hands of time, the girl these women once were is left behind. Just as Ama is starting to experience life, Grace is motivated by her past trauma – which is only ever alluded to. She had Ama when she was only fourteen, making her just as susceptible to the loss of girlhood as her child. She does her best to keep her daughter safe, but her past experiences and the impact on her current decisions are as much of a hindrance as a benefit. Wisely, however, the film portrays her perspective as much as Ama’s, generating titanic empathy.
Keeping the film anchored are some truly magnificent performances from a cast that elevates Onsashile’s stunning screenplay to new heights. Bonsu and Turner’s chemistry is phenomenal, but Lukumuena steals the show. Even ignoring the fact that she is a French actor speaking in an entirely different language for the whole film, her ability to capture the deep anguish and stubborn righteousness that creates her character’s thought process is simply staggering. Through mere facial expressions and moments of silence, Lukumuena’s ability to convey the overwhelming weight of life is a marvel to watch.
Although it is frequently melancholy, a feeling of hope underpins Girl and makes it absorbing. It does not sugarcoat life’s difficulties, yet, like many people surrounding Grace and Ama, it lends a helping hand of understanding. It is the care the film has for its characters and its willingness to demonstrate how even the worst of times can offer a glimmer of hope that turns this from an intriguing character drama into a compelling conversation piece. Girl is an excellent opener for the Glasgow Film Festival and an even more impressive feature debut from Onsashile.
United Kingdom | 1hr 27min | 2023
Although it is frequently melancholic, hope underpins Girl and makes it so absorbing. It does not sugarcoat life’s difficulties, yet, like many people surrounding Grace and Ama, it lends a helping hand of understanding. It is the care the film has for its characters and its willingness to demonstrate how even the worst of times can offer a glimmer of hope that turns this from an intriguing character drama into a compelling conversation piece.