I was not made sufficiently aware that Girlhood is kind of a remake of 1995's La Haine, or if we don't want to go too nuts, it is a film that exists in the space made possible because of La Haine (a massively influential depiction of poor urban youth that triggered an entire subgenre of realist francophone cinema) That's a a descriptive judgment only, you understand; it doesn't make Girlhood any less great (and great it is) and I can't imagine any of its defenders would first and above all leap to radically fresh genre as the thing they liked about it. We are not in uncharted waters, but writer-director Céline Sciamma charts a marvelously sure and certain course.

Anyway, there are two things that makes Girlhood very different from La Haine, and having rolled it over in my head for a quite a long while, I think that how one prioritises them explains everything about the kind of viewer one is. For one thing, while La Haine is a tale of a multi-ethnic trio of young men operating on the edges of lawful society, Girlhood is about four girls (naturally enough), all of African descent. For the other, La Haine is in grimy black-and-white, while Girlhood is in rich color and makes a big point of foregrounding that in its best scenes.

Regular readers can easily guess that I'm much more intellectually invested in the second of these distinctions, but let's not get to that point so quickly that we ignore what a robust, forceful depiction this is of a type of personal story that gets virtually no screen time, and Sciamma's remove from that story grants her just enough of a sense of detached objectivity that the whole film ends up feeling suitably journalistic even while she drums up an enormous degree of well-earned sympathy and empathy for the lead character Marieme, played to extraordinary effect by first-time actor Karidja Touré, giving a performance with a level of tiny precision and enormous sensitivity that never once makes a special case that we should uncritically love this prickly and difficult character. In the name of all sanity, have led her to an insurmountable pile of offers; instead, 22 months after the film's 2014 Cannes premiere, she still hasn't completed her second feature.

While grousing over that, let me turn to the film's other triumphs, of which it has many: the story of an impoverished loner from the streets seduced by a gang member who can offer family, meaning, and a sense of dignity - in this case, the magnetic Lady (Assa Sylla) - but finds her new life to be just as lacking, in different ways, as her old one, this is not a groundbreaking, revolutionary story. But it's told with a hellacious amount of keen insight for who Marieme is, who she wants to be, and the world which she uncomfortably inhabits, and that gives it a punch that it otherwise lacks. Sciamma and cinematographer Crystel Fournier also mix up their aesthetic just enough: mostly shot in a standard kind of severe docu-realist aesthetic, the film indulges in swatches of bright colors almost unto the point of abstraction just enough to keep the whole thing on its toes. A sequence in which Marieme finds herself swept into a triumphant, life-affirming sing-along to Rihanna's "Diamonds", against a background of pungent teal, is one of the most exciting sequences in recent cinema, and there's plenty more where that came from.