You may have already heard of the film Cuties, or Mignonnes in its native French. It released on Netflix in September after debuting in January at Sundance Film Festival where Maïmouna Doucouré won the Directing Award. However, the reason you have probably heard of it is not down to the success of the film, but down to a poorly received marketing campaign from Netflix that went live this summer before the films global release.
As the old adage goes, don’t judge a book by its cover – or as I often think in our TrailerChat segments – don’t judge a film by its Netflix marketing strategy. As part of my 52 film challenge book, I needed to watch a ‘Controversial Film’ so it seemed like no better time to finally check out Cuties and see if any of the outrage was warranted (spoiler: it wasn’t).
Following on my watches of Les Miserables and County Lines, Cuties is another piece about children thrust into adulthood too soon, either by parents, lack of parents, caring responsibilities and society. There are wonderful juxtapositions where we see Amy acting as parent to her two younger brothers and being taught to ‘be a woman’ within her religious customs, yet we see her struggle to want to become a woman in her own mind and follow the examples she is seeing around her in the world or via her stolen phone. Why is she allowed to work and care for a child like an adult but not dance like one? It’s made clear that these girls have little to no parental supervision or even an open dialogue with their parents. If you leave children alone, they will self-educate with whatever they can find.
There is stunning visual symbolism alongside these moral quandaries, a repeated metaphor with a blue dress for an upcoming wedding is wonderful and the film contains many abstract touches that only further highlight the extremes going on inside the mind of a confused girl going through puberty as well as various other issues that plague her.
Cuties was a pleasure to watch. It perfectly encapsulates the horrors of being an 11-year-old girl. The awkward in-between stage of being part child, part woman. The desire to have your peers see you as an equal, the confusion about where your place in the world is. Whilst I did not live the experiences in the film, it reminded me of my own tween years and that crushing awkwardness where you will do just about anything to fit in with others and within the world. Anyone who thinks otherwise has a very naive idea of the horrors that go on within your head and in schools.
In relation to the controversy around the sexualisation of the young performers, there were a couple of scenes that I felt went on just a little too long and made me uncomfortable. But, these are no different to films like Thirteen and Little Miss Sunshine which were critical darlings and award winners. It is also highlighted clearly within the film that these moments are inappropriate, these moments are not aspirational but instead fork in the road moments for Amy to evaluate who she is and who she wants to become. Again, they also made me think back to the music I would listen and dance to when I was that age, and whilst I did it in the privacy of my bedroom, at times I’m sure it was inappropriate for my age too.
What should also be remembered is that this is a French film and, on the whole, they are more open – and maybe they should be to promote dialogue – how many children are being left to self-parent during their most formative years? Cuties provides an interesting reminder of how easy it is to become lost at this fragile age and the importance of feeling accepted within your own world.
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