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Sundance 2020 Review: "Cuties" (2020) ★★★★


©MIGNONNES de Maïmouna Doucouré par Jean-Michel Papazian pour BIEN OU BIEN PRODUCTIONS

Each society is different from one another. While one may teach us to be obedient, another might be fine with being rebellious, open-minded, and so on. However, whenever we lock the child inside a box, we must expect that little precious life to escape from it. And when it happens, there’s no such force existing that would stop the youth from growing in their mind that someone tried to block.

Amy (Fathia), an 11—year-old from Senegal, is born and raised as a Muslim. As her mother pretends to accept the second marriage of her husband, the little girl is watching her mother’s tears behind the curtain. As she observes her society being very religious, she does the unthinkable by joining a group of dancers named “The Cuties” at school. As soon as she does that, she gets more cognizant of her feminine side, the beauty of it, and how to translate it into provocative dance moves. In the meantime, she not only upsets her mother (Maimoouna Gueye) but the community as well who can’t even imagine the girl hailing from a family with such strong values to act in such a manner.

When we first meet Amy, she is fighting with her little brother, Ismael, at home. Her mother is secretly crying after learning that her husband will bring home another wife. Amy has no issues with grades; she quietly attends all the religious gatherings where she learns about being obedient towards men and how if the woman does something wrong, they’re the ones who overpopulate hell compared to men. All this information flows straight to the girl’s mind while the society outside of her home is modern and welcoming.

It all starts when she sees her neighbor, Angelica (Medina El Aidi-Azouni), dancing in the laundry room and ironing her hair. After seeing her moves, she’s left mesmerized. As she begins following the group of four comprising Angelica, Yasmine (Myriam Hamma), Jess (Ilanah Cami-Gorsolas), and Coumba (Esther Gohourou), Amy realizes her true nature as she’s slowly being accepted to participate in an upcoming pre-selection and if they advance, to participate in a dance competition as well. However, as she finds her true self, grows through her youth, and becomes more mature, the girl sees two different worlds in her own way while she must decide which one she must be part of.

Written and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, “The Cuties” is not a Hollywood type of film. In fact, never expect something bold and thought-provoking like this to ever be made in the Western World. The film is mind-blowing, shocking to watch, and absolutely charismatic. Maïmouna Doucouré takes Amy from her safe zone, if you wish to call it that, and throw her into the reality of the world through art while her personality keeps changing as well. Amy is not bad to be part of a group that’s literally dislikable. It is happening because of her being shut from the rapidly changing world she was not aware of. She realizes her limits, boundaries, and even how to cross them. It’s an act of rebellion but through acts of softness and good intention, at some point, she will have to find a way to say – enough is enough.

In the end, “The Cuties” provides much-needed food for thought. It does not necessarily ask every single individual in the same situation to run away from it by turning their existence upside down. All that it does is to bring awareness about the reality of the situation most parents hide by forcing their children to be part of a life they do not belong to. At some point, whether we agree or not, someone will have to fight back. As for the performances, it’s absolutely perfect. The lead actresses are superb. Despite their young age, they translate feminine youth onto the screen in such a nuanced way that you either will watch it till the end or stop it in the middle. However, don’t do that; keep watching them not because they are the cuties but because they use the only language they know to express themselves fully – the provocative and self-defining dance.

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