Writer-director Adura Onashile's debut feature is a deeply frustrating film. There are flashes of brilliance: a fascinating soundscape and strong performances, but my attention sagged. Even though the film only has an 86 minute run-time it felt as though it was 30 minutes too long, like a short-film expanded beyond its narrative capability. The result is a film that feels underwritten and uninvolving.
As the film opens we meet a young mother and pre-teen daughter living in a high-rise flat in contemporary Scotland. West African immigrant Grace (Deborah Lukumuena) and her daughter Ama (Le'Shantay Bonsu) share their space with an oppressive intimacy. It soon becomes clear that Grace's over-protection stems from trauma and is manifesting in emotional manipulation and damage to her child. As well as literally locking her in the flat at night while she goes out to work, Grace seems to infantilise Ama, fearing the onset of puberty in a kind of dysphoria by proxy. A well-meaning social worker tries to intervene, as does Ama's newfound schoolfriend. But that's about as much plot as we get.
What we DO get are endless tableaux of Grace and Ama in close-up expressing fear and captivity - whether literal or emotional This becomes wearying. That said, I really loved Re Olunuga's ethereal and evocative score, and cinematographer Tasha Black's acid coloured nightscapes of Glasgow. It has never looked more beautiful.
GIRL has a running time of 87 minutes. It played Sundance 2023 and will play the BFI London Film Festival 2023.