Shot entirely in Glasgow, there was no better choice to open this year’s edition of Glasgow Film Festival than writer-director Adura Onashile’s feature debut, Girl. Starring Déborah Lukumuena (The Braves) and Le’Shantey Bonsu in her screen debut, the film follows a mother, Grace (Lukumuena), and her 11-year-old daughter, Ama (Bonsu), as they try to make new lives for themselves in a new city. However, as Grace suffers from extreme anxiety caused by past trauma, she finds it difficult to trust those around her and has likewise taught her daughter to be suspicious of the world. When Ama finds friendship with a girl in her class (Liana Turner), Grace believes she’s losing her daughter.
The beauty in Girl comes through how understated it is. Onashile allows the performances from her leads to do much of the heavy-lifting when it comes to conveying complex and nuanced emotions in a way that words alone cannot achieve; the pair’s bond is at its closest when they’re barely saying anything at all. Whether they’re fantasising about their dream home, telling a charming bedtime story about how Ama came to be (though this proves to be a method for Grace to hide her past), or riding a ferris wheel, the quieter moments resonate the loudest.
Moreover, these sequences are that much more effective thanks to a mesmerising score from Ré Olunuga. Comprised of solemn vocal harmonies and aching string melodies, the soundtrack blends beautifully with Tasha Back’s cinematography to tenderly etch out what’s happening onscreen.
In addition to these more sombre scenes, both Lukumuena and Bonsu deliver powerfully heart-wrenching performances. Lukumuena is once again phenomenal, quietly portraying Grace’s trauma one moment and exploding with a passionate mix of love and fear the next. The young Bonsu is just as fantastic, and shows that she’s able to hold her own as an accomplished star. Together, the pair create marvellous chemistry.
Lying just underneath the raw familial story is one that touches on themes of isolation and trauma. By only giving audiences occasional glimpses into Grace’s past, the filmmaker shows just enough for viewers to understand the character’s pain without it overshadowing the central relationship.
Girl does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Glasgow Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Girl here: