Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 13, 2020 6:18 pm 
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CONTROVERSY HAS ERUPTED over this film lately as noted in a GUARDIAN article (August 2020) over its inclusion on Netflix. Yes the young girls are sexualized: they sexualize themselves. That's part of the story, but not the whole point of the story. The film has other value, but I had doubts myself. The girls' tight-dress butt-bumping can make you uneasy. It's meant to. The trouble with the 150,000 reported objections to the film over previews on Netflix is none of them have seen the actual film. Before you object to a work, experience it for yourself, at least. The trouble is, of course the trailer highlights the most risqué moments. They always do.


A girl beyond her age

A few years ago the young Mamouna Doucouré was a biology student and actress. She made some notable short films, and now she has made her first feature, the portrait of Amy (Fathia Youssouf), an 11-year-old girl in Paris of Senegalese origin wavering between rebellion and cultural tradition. She gets really wild, dresses in a costume to perform in her girl group "Mignonnes" ("Cuties") in a way family adults would consider shocking and sluttish. Pivotal to the story is how these young girls don't quite understand how sexualized their tight outfits and their butt-pumping in their dance is making them. As the film ends, disenchanted with the efforts at fitting in and the dance competition, Amy comes home and is last seen jumping rope, like a young schoolgirl.

As a portrait of vibrant multicultural young females in the banlieue, this movie obviously relates to and may draw from Céline Sciamma's ghetto-girls feature Bande de filles (vaguely retitled "Girlhood" in English). The difference is the focus here on pressure from ethnic elders. Thanks to the cinematography of Yann Maritaud, the people often look great. But for all its energy, color, and good direction of kids and non-actor adults, Cuties isn't on the level of Sciamma. Sometimes Mignonnes is as approximate as the performances of the girls' hiphop group and as uneven as the group's mismatched makeup. Best aspect of the film isn't the stuff about the group, but the rumblings of complicated family trouble. Amy's father plans on bringing a second wife into the home, with all the humiliation for her mother and derangement of household order that this impending event - which is colorfully depicted toward the end - will bring.

Amy meets her new best friend, the bespectacled Anjelica (Médina El Aidi-Azouni), when the latter spots her dancing in the laundry room and is intrigued. The eventual result is that the shy, skinny Amy is, if somewhat uneasily, allowed - thanks to her choreographical skills - to join up with the dance group Anjelica is in called "Les Mignonnes" or the Cuties, who are already (not always plausibly) preparing for a competition. The movie heads toward the conventional structural device of the climactic competition with last minute reversals that change the dynamics of the group.

In Cuties Doucouré has accessed and presented on screen a vibrant ethnic community not often seen in French films. Hopefully she will make future films that deserve more than onscreen click-time via Netrlix.

Cuties/Mignonnes, 96 mins., debuted at both Sundance and Berlin in early 2020. It was also included in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, where it was screened for this review. In the US it is a Netflix release. French theatrical release is scheduled for Apr. 1 2020.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema:
Tuesday, March 10, 6:30pm (Q&A was to have been with Maïmouna Doucouré, cancelled)
Thursday, March 12, 2:00pm

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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