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London Film Festival Review: Young Girls In Black

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If Of Gods And Men showed French cinema at its finest, a quietly powerful reflection on faith and its ability to both unite and divide, Young Girls In Black represents the opposite extreme. Even at ninety minutes, it drags interminably and its story, potentially offering interesting observations on a new generation of socially-alienated teenage misfits and their misguided efforts at defining a place for themselves into the world, barely seems to know what it wants to say and instead wallows in the most vapid kind of emotional self-indulgence. And you know who's to blame for all this? Those bloody Goths.

If Of Gods And Men showed French cinema at its finest, a quietly powerful reflection on faith and its ability to both unite and divide, Young Girls In Black represents the opposite extreme. Even at ninety minutes, it drags interminably and its story, potentially offering interesting observations on a new generation of socially-alienated teenage misfits and their misguided efforts at defining a place for themselves into the world, barely seems to know what it wants to say and instead wallows in the most vapid kind of emotional self-indulgence. And you know who's to blame for all this? Those bloody Goths.

Not the Visigoths, obviously. Blaming modern society's ills on an Eastern Germanic tribe from the time of the Roman Empire would be weird, but at least probably quite entertaining in a way that spending an hour and a half in the company of two perpetually whinging middle-class teenage girls mistaking misery for emotional depth most definitely isn't.

The film follows Noémie and Priscilla, two best friends in melancholy who are asked to do a school report on the German romantic poet Kleist and decide that his shared suicide with his wife is definitely the way to go. Both girls have plenty to be miserable about: Noémie is a talented fluteist who lives in a pleasant flat with her caring mother, whom she perpetually reduces to tears just because, y'know, she totally doesn't understand. Priscilla admittedly has been left in the care of her elder sister, but this means she's spoken to honestly and is given all the freedom she could ever want to mope around the streets looking depressed and wondering why her ex-boyfriend ran off with someone else.

One of the biggest among myriad problems is that it's impossible to tell from watching whether director Jean-Paul Civeyrac is expecting us to take these girls seriously or suggest that they need help. The final scenes would suggest the latter, yet everything up until that point hangs on its protagonists' every word as though we're expected to find their inane musings as profound as they clearly do.

I've been facetious up until now and will admit that there might have been some captivating material in contrasting how these girls see the world compared to those around them and using it as a means of emphasizing the generational gap. Yet there's no hint of a subtext to justify these rants in any wider context and every idea is presented with absolute earnestness. That lack of subtlety wouldn't be too bad if there were some challenging ideas on offer, but let's not go so far as to pretend that teenage self-reflection has ever contained even a smidgen of true profundity. All this talk of soulmates, absolute truths and the crushing nature of existence isn't inspired by philosophical examination as much as rampant hormones throwing a growing mind into disarray. Such statements are driven by a desire to rationalise the difficulties of becoming increasingly independent and having to deal with the grown-up world, marking out adults and their institutions as enemies to justify crippling insecurity rather than because there's any real world truth in those words. It doesn't take Sigmund Freud as much as the relief of emerging on the other side of adolescence to realise that.

The performances are at least competent: actresses Elise Lhomeau and Léa Tissier convey their characters' deep-rooted ennui with low-key glances and conserved body language, opening up only for sudden emotional explosions at key moments. Given the inherently arduous material they're asked to work with, all longing longueurs without even the decency to throw in some gratuitous lesbianism for male viewers, not even they can conjure up a moment of likeability for either girl. This is an enormous issue when there is nary a scene that at least one of them isn't at the centre of. Civeyrac's direction is mostly unintrusive and does little more than follow the girls around, but like his characters' excessive preening, his enthusiasm for zooms to reflect deep emotional turmoil is woefully hammy, especially when the results (Noémie announcing her and Priscilla's impending joint suicide after their report on Kleist gets unsurprisingly sneered at by the class) are not nearly so shocking as he thinks they are.

A studio press pack interview suggests that director Civeyrac genuinely believes his girls to be true emotional martyrs, suffering at the behest of a society unable to offer them the absolute truths they crave. You can read the interview here and work out if you'll be able to take anything from his film by whether you can absorb his reasoning without cringing and can take it in dialogue form for a full ninety minutes. From the perspective of someone who adores the romantic poets, I find it tragic that their passionate and enriching philosophies have been mangled up into this mélange of self-pity and meaningless proselytising. Even the late appearances of a gaudy-tie-wearing, all-singing grandpa and Robinson DelaCroix's earth-shatteringly awful haircut, the spawn of an ungodly union between a mohawk and a mullet, isn't entertaining enough to redeem a film whose main achievement is reminding the audience of how terminally unendurable even ninety minutes can be, let alone a lifetime. If I had to live in Civeyrac's script, that balcony might seem rather appealing after all.


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reviewed by Xander Markham

 

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Xander Markham
Xander MarkhamAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Living just outside London, I represent Flixist’s entire UK branch. My film obsession manifested itself during a childhood spent watching Bond movies, Italian Westerns and all things samurai. I... more + disclosures


 



Filed under... #Festival Films #Flixist UK #London Film Festival #Reviews

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