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SUNDANCE 2020 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Review: Cuties

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- Maïmouna Doucouré has won the Best Director award at the Sundance Film Festival for her feature debut, a multi-faceted coming-of-age drama

Review: Cuties

Maïmouna Doucouré’s Cuties is one of two French films selected at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition (where it won the Best Director award). Doucouré had already won the award for Best Short Film for Maman/s in 2016, and this new award-winning feature elaborates on the same concept. The jury was fascinated by the busy mise-en-scene which showed great aesthetic coherence and confidence.

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Doucouré, who also wrote the script, tells the story through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, but Amy, the main protagonist in Cuties, is also an alter-ego for the director who, like her, grew up between two different cultures — that of France, her native country, and that of Senegal, where her parents were from. At school, Amy wants to join the same dance group as her neighbour, Angelica. The group is made up of four very confident girls, who take the airs of grown women and wear very revealing clothes. Amy does not have this confidence, and, in secret, she watches videos to learn her moves, while spending more and more time with her new friends.

Meanwhile, at home, everybody is getting ready for the father’s return from Senegal. When Amy learns that his new wife will be with him, she is distraught. She is also torn between her mother’s sadness and the traditional ideas that her aunts continuously recites to help her become a woman. Dance becomes an escape and she practices obsessively, channeling all her energy and frustration into her training. Young actress Fathia Youssouf finds the perfect balance in a performance both delicate and surprisingly powerful, and her charisma is the film’s biggest strength. Though she stands out from the other actors, all are extraordinary.

Doucouré creates a multi-faceted coming-of-age film. This prism reflects the image that young girls have of themselves in our society, their aesthetic sense informed by social media, advertising and everyday pornography, and their ways of expressing themselves through clothes, make-up and rude language — all things which are part of a way of life that our entertainment industry tends to reduce to stereotypes without understanding them. In Cuties, Doucouré confronts a falsely progressive image of womanhood, with a falsely conservative vision, to better bring out nuances. She intelligently avoids demonisation and easy solutions, instead crafting a plea for a better understanding of each other.

Despite the heaviness of its topic, the film succeeds in maintaining a sense of calm and of childish levity, even a sweet sentimental touch. The choice of warm and saturated colours adds a hint of magic in a tense, tightly edited film. The director has crafted the most beautiful luxury case for this relevant and artistically convincing little gem.

Cuties is produced by Bien ou Bien Productions and France 3 Cinéma. The film is distributed by Bac Films in France and by Netflix worldwide.

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(Translated from French)

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