Before The Portrait of a Lady on Fire writer-director Céline Sciamma chronicled a young woman’s attempts for forge her own life in the city.
Marieme (Karidja Touré) lives in a poor Paris suburb. It’s tough enough for anyone, but for a is a 16-year-old African-French teenager trying to make her way in the world outside of gang culture, it’s not easy. But when she meets Lady (Assa Sylla), Fily (Marietou Toure) and Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) on her way home from school one day, Marieme feels drawn towards the kinship they offer. Even so, the need to break away, to discover what she wants from life remains her driving force.
Beautifully shot by Crystel Fournier and with a driving score by Para One (and featuring a standout scene set to Rihanna), Céline Sciamma’s urban drama showed a marked shift away from the more ruminative Water Lilies and Tomboy. But her exploration of youth and identity remains. Touré is impressive in the lead, conveying the complexity of her emotions, about her life, the relationships she has and the ones she can afford to avoid, and the desire to be her own person.