Adolescence is a time few want to relive, but its inherent dichotomies are inexhaustible fodder for cinema. Cuties, Maïmouna Doucouré’s debut, evokes Céline Sciamma’s vision of youth in Water Lilies and Girlhood in its first moments, as quiet outsider Amy (Youssouf) becomes enthralled with a dance troupe – specifically the one girl who lives in her building – that exudes confidence, popularity, and the certain type of cool that comes from mimicking adulthood. The adolescent awkwardness then swings into its own unique commentary on young womanhood as Amy earns a spot in the crew, confronting her identity as the team works towards their next dance competition.

This clash between the girls’ lived experience and knowledge with the image they exude on stage is brilliantly captured by Yann Maritaud’s cinematography and some unselfconscious performances from the brilliant young leads. The Cuties take inspiration from an older troupe, including moves far too sexualised for 11- and 12-year-olds. Their ignorance of their choreography’s connotations – bumping butts is a source of amusement – comes across in the dancers’ wide smiles and the camera’s pans to uneasy spectators. These moments contrast against Amy’s French-Senegalese family’s expectations, whose complicated internal judgements are conveyed through each changing perspective.

The film’s tone is not always consistent, leaning just enough into visual comedy that one wishes it probed further into the absurdism of a world that sexualised girls without educating them on their own comfort. But throughout, Amy’s young perspective is given precedence – and sometimes that values the fleeting glimpse of a boy over decisions that rock her family unit.

Cuties is rough around the edges and slightly undercuts itself in an incongruous denouement, but it respects the silliness and sadness of Amy’s coming-of-age journey. The film’s visual confidence and unaffected performances from its young cast speak of bright futures for all involved.



CAST: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Maïmouna Gueye

DIRECTOR: Maïmouna Doucouré

WRITER: Maïmouna Doucouré

SYNOPSIS: A French-Senegalese middle schooler befriends an adolescent dance troupe in a move against expected traditions.