Sundance Film Festival 2023. Review of “Girl” by Adura Onashile

Adura Onashile debuted her award-winning short film, Expensive Shit, at the 2020 BFI London Film Festival, which went on to screen at the 2021 Glasgow Short Film Festival. Her poignant and gut-wrenching debut feature, Girl, has now premiered in the World Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

An extraordinarily delicate film about trauma and coming-of-age, Girl, tells the story of Grace and Ama, a mother-daughter duo who have established a very deep bond that has protected them from the outside world. But as they embark on a fresh start in Glasgow, things begin to change, the bond is shaken and they find themselves at a crossroads. Ama’s burgeoning puberty and curiosity set off reminders of a past that twenty-four-year-old Grace has been running from, a painful past that interrupts the story in the present in the form of flashbacks, thus making their cloistered world crumble from the inside. With her new friend Fiona, Ama blossoms and explores the world, but Grace is left dazed and benumbed outside of their safe nest. Eventually, Grace comes to the challenging realization that she has to loosen her grip on Ama if either of them are going to actually live their lives.

Onashile delicately crafts a heartbreaking story about two parallel relationships, friendship, motherly love, possessiveness out of love, healing and coming-of-age. She deftly takes us through the painful sacrifices that are sometimes needed to love ourselves and those closest and dearest to us and shows us, in the process, they are truly needed in order to achieve the aforementioned self-love and healing. In that sense, Onashile’s compassionate handling of Grace’s trauma takes an atmospheric approach, nimbly revealing just enough details.

Déborah Lukumuena portrays Grace with such fragility, viscerality and compassion that heartbreak and fear are imbued in her being. Le’Shantey Bonsu inhabits Ama with ease, sensitivity and depth. Both performances are highly nuanced and arresting. Onashile demonstrates impressive assuredness and precision in her directing, so much so that she is able to masterfully extract these performances out of her actresses with tenderness, grace, honesty and authenticity, the love for her material and protagonists palpable throughout the entire film. Tasha Back’s intimate and evocative camera and Stella Heath Keir’s shrewd editing pull us into this affecting story and we are in for the emotional ride all the way! Ré Olunuga’s polyphonic score amplifies the atmospheric experience of the protagonists’ confronting realities.

Girl is an arresting and fresh perspective on motherhood that not only every mother, but everyone should see. It is a soulful meditation on two people and holding onto to what you love and letting go. Adura Onashile is definitely an indisputable talent to watch and I look forward to seeing what she does next!


Photo credits: Barry Crerar.


Production: BBC Film, BFI Film Fund, Barry Crerar, Great Point Media, Screen Scotland (UK, 2023). Producers: Ciara Barry, Rosie Crerar. Executive Producers: Kristin Irving, Jim Reeve, Eva Yates. Director: Adura Onashile. Screenplay: Adura Onashile. Cinematography: Tasha Back. Costume Design: Kirsty Halliday. Production Design: Soraya Gilanni. Score: Ré Olunuga. Editing: Stella Heath Keir.

Cast: Déborah Lukunema (Grace), Le’Shantey Bonsu (Ama)

Color – 87 min. Premiere: 22-I-2023 (Sundance Film Festival)

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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