Shit. This is not some easy-breezy coming of age story, I’ll tell you that much for free. You’d be forgiven for assuming as much when the camera originally picks up with two teenaged girls who goof off in class and daydream about making big money, but that’s just the first sign that you should buckle the fuck up.
Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and Maiimouna (Deborah Lukumuena) are from the shanty side of Paris, where they’re expected to train as receptionists at school. The teacher is as clueless as the class is hopeless, and you can’t quite bring yourself to blame these girls for dropping out. But then Dounia meets two people who might potentially change her life: Djigui, an untrained but talented dancer, who makes her think a different kind of life is possible, and Rebecca, a glamorous young drug dealer\sex worker who makes that different kind of life accessible.
Dounia is nothing if not an upstarter. With boundless energy and roiling teenaged cynicism, she and her friend put themselves in situations they’re too stupid to realize are crazy dangerous. They’re both too mature and too naive, eager to make their mark but easily manipulated. The camera’s gaze is unflinching, even if ours is not. No matter how big and bad the girls pretend to be, their youth and inexperience betray them.
Writer-director Houda Benyamina gives a gritty but sympathetic look at the less polished side of Paris, where money, race, and power are unapologetically at the forefront of everyday existence. The film is raw and filled with rage, which means it’s got this really buzzy undercurrent that makes you feel like anything is possible and you have no idea where it’s all going. The energy is astounding, especially from a largely unknown cast (Amamra is Benyamina’s little sister), and even though this isn’t a typically “enjoyable” film, I felt pulled inside of it, headlong, and we all just prayed that we’d make it out alive.