Inspired by All This Panic, Jenny Gage’s spellbinding documentary following seven teenage girls growing up in Brooklyn, we look back at some of cinema's great female coming-of-age films
Coming-of-age stories have been a cinematic staple for decades, reconstituting the thematic characteristics of the novelistic Bildungsroman and projecting them on to the big screen. Sadly, the majority of these films have come from male directors, all too often culminating in little more than irrelevant nostalgia pieces, or revisionist investigations into the masculinity-in-crisis debate. Thankfully, however, the last decade has witnessed a surge of female voices entering the fray. Here are five coming-of-age films, by female directors, that dared to break the mould.
Blame it on Fidel (2006)
Dir. Julie Gavras
Julie Gavras’ drama, based on Domitilla Calamai's novel of the same name, uses the confusion surrounding adolescence to explore the development of political identity. Set in Paris in the early 1970s, the film tells the story of Anna (Nina Kervel), a precocious nine-year-old whose world is turned upside down when her bourgeois parents reinvent themselves as socialists. Combining the political and the personal, this sweet-natured film takes the contradictions of adulthood and filters them through the experience of a child who refuses to accept Mickey Mouse could be a fascist.
In Bloom (2013)
Dir. Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß
There’s been an outpouring of coming-of-age films from the New East, with the transition from youth to adulthood used to explore shifting identities in the former Soviet Union. Although the use of teenage lives as a device to discuss social change has become a cliché of Eastern European cinema, it’s rarely employed as perceptively as In Bloom. Based on director Nana Ekvtimishvili’s own experiences growing up in Georgia during the conflict with neighbouring Black Sea region Abkhazia, this poetic tale of youthful defiance in the face of patriarchal oppression is told with measured and elegant precision.
Dir. Dee Rees
Netflix recently picked up Dee Rees’ Mudbound for $12.5 million. If it builds on the promise of her 2011 debut, Pariah, then it could be money well spent. Films about young African-American women are few and far between, and films about young African-American lesbians are even rarer. Boasting a remarkable central performance by Adepero Oduye, the film explores the conflict between sexual identity and cultural values. An intimate story about the emancipating power of art, Pariah is fearless storytelling with tremendous compassion.
Turn me on Goddammit! (2011)
Dir. Jannicke Systad Jacobsen
This Norwegian comedy tells the story of Alma, a sex-obsessed 15-year-old wrestling with the awkward realisation that her erotic fantasies aren’t in keeping with the reality of life in her parochial town. With representations of female sexuality often filtered through the male gaze, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s wildly entertaining film feels like a breath of fresh air – depicting female sexuality in a frank and honest fashion by never attempting to anchor Alma’s desires to a misplaced sense of romantic longing.
Dir. Lucia Puenzo
Adolescence is a time of difficult choices, but rarely are they as difficult as the choice faced by 15-year old Alex in Lucia Puenzo’s XXY. A beautifully shot rite-of-passage story, this portrait of a teenager born intersex is a tender and, at times shocking, depiction of the human body as the last refuge in a world of binary oppression.