The Movie Waffler Raindance Film Festival 2024 Review - SISTERHOOD | The Movie Waffler

Raindance Film Festival 2024 Review - SISTERHOOD

Sisterhood review
Three teenage friends fall out in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nora el Hourch

Starring: Léah Aubert, Médina Diarra, Salma Takaline, Oscar Al Hafiane, Mounir Margoum, Bérénice Bejo

Sisterhood poster

Originally titled "HLM Pussy", Sisterhood's English language territory distributors will likely be hoping to evoke memories of Celine Sciamma's acclaimed 2014 film Girlhood. Focussed on the troubled lives of French-African teenage girls, Nora el Hourch's film would appear cut from the same cloth, but where Sciamma's film was a coming-of-age character study, this is an often clunky social issues drama that attempts to make so many intersectional points it leaves its issues short-changed.

Sisterhood review

15-year-olds Amina (Leah Aubert), Djeneba (Médina Diarra) and Zineb (Salma Takaline) have been friends since childhood, and even Amina moving away from their working class neighbourhood hasn't disrupted their relationship. That's despite the best efforts of Amina's wealthy father Ahmed (Mounir Margoum) to separate his daughter from a world he prides himself on escaping.

Cracks begin to surface in the three girls' friendship when Zineb is targeted for increasingly sinister sexual harassment by her older brother's drug dealing friend Zak (Oscar Al Hafiane). Amina insists that they take action against Zak but Zineb doesn't want to cause trouble and Djeneba doesn't take his aggression seriously. When Amina secretly films one of Zak's creepy advances towards Zineb and posts it to social media, it sets off a chain reaction of events that drives a wedge between the girls' long-standing friendship.

Sisterhood review

Sisterhood is a commendable if coarse attempt to tackle the intersectional conflicts of modern feminism, explicitly acknowledging how views on feminism are shaped by cultural backgrounds. With a white mother and a Moroccan father who has all but denounced his background in order to fit in, Amina is essentially culturally white, and thus her views on how to deal with Zak are coming from a very different place to her Black and Algerian friends, who still hold on to more culturally conservative ideas. When Amina posts the video she is instantly embraced by middle class white girls and can't understand why Djeneba and Zineb aren't similarly hailing her as a hero to all women. Djeneba accuses her of possessing a white saviour mentality while Zineb is so confused by being simultaneously exposed to the conflicting views of white liberal France and her conservative Arab community that she can't figure out if she's actually a victim.

This is a fascinating dynamic, but it's one that requires a stronger film than Sisterhood. The sexual harassment plot is interrupted by a subplot concerning Amina's conflict with her father, which again has much potential but is messily handled here. There's a great movie to be made about how Gen-Z youngsters of immigrant backgrounds are increasingly embracing the cultures their parents and grandparents previously left behind in order to adapt in an unwelcoming Europe, but this isn't it. Sisterhood has the feel of a tea-time TV show aimed at young people but made by adults who are more concerned with preaching to kids than depicting their actual lives and digging into their concerns. The depiction of social media will likely have teenage viewers rolling their eyes at its heavy handedness.

Sisterhood review

With Sisterhood we're watching two films trip over one another. One is a drama about an Arab kid being told they're French while never feeling like that's really the case; the other an examination of how class, religion and culture shapes how young girls view their place in society. Both have so much potential that it's a shame El Hourch can't make them work in tandem. The film is saved from being a sloppy sermon by the three central performances, with Aubert and Diarra particularly impressive. France currently has a host of talented women filmmakers, so I look forward to seeing what they might do with these young stars in the coming years.

Sisterhood plays at the 2024 Raindance Film Festival on June 25th.

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