This film has courted a hell of a lot of controversy and I can’t deny that wasn’t part of the reason I wanted to check it out. I like to see things for myself before I form an opinion (which is a no-brainer but not always the way people do things). I’ll go into my thoughts later on as part of the review but I will say, while I get the negativity, I do think this admittedly difficult-to-watch movie is misunderstood (2.7 on IMDB!). Underneath the dodgy veneer is an interesting commentary and a competent, if flawed, film.
Mignonnes (original title)
Amy, an 11-year-old girl, joins a group of dancers named “the cuties” at school, and rapidly grows aware of her burgeoning femininity – upsetting her mother and her values in the process.
Directed by: Maïmouna Doucouré
Starring: Fathia Youssouf • Médina El Aidi-Azouni • Esther Gohourou • Ilanah Cami-Goursolas
Amy (Youssouf), her mother and siblings are immigrants from Senegal. They’ve just moved into a new apartment block in a poor neighbourhood in Paris, where they wait for their father/husband to return from an extended stay in Senegal. He’s due back with a second wife in tow – to join the rest of them in their already cramped lodgings.
Amy’s mother Mariam (Maïmouna Gueye) is clearly devastated, but is encouraged to pull up her big girl pants and accept the situation graciously by her religious group’s Grand Poobah, La tante (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), also referred to as ‘aunty’. La tante preaches maximum piousness to the women of the group which just about bores 11-year-old Amy to death. She’s got her eye on a group of bad girls at school, would-be dance sensations, ‘the cuties’.
To begin with the cuties take the piss out of Amy and her unappealing fashion sense but she soon bonds with group leader, Angelica (Aidi-Azouni) who lives in the same building. Slowly but surely she’s welcomed into the fold – and when the girls have a falling out with Yasmine (Myriam Hamma) – takes the opportunity to volunteer herself as her replacement. The cuties are set to audition for a big competition – and having watched and copied the girls’ moves – Amy is more than ready to compete.
In fact, after stealing a smartphone so she can keep her hand in with her new pals on social, she studies some NSFW dance videos and teaches them to the troupe. Think maximum twerking and provocative facial expressions. This ups the ante on the competition and the cuties seem closer than ever to getting into the comp, maybe even beating their rivals.
Meanwhile, Amy’s father is closer to returning and his upcoming nuptials to wife #2 are looming. She wishes he’d never come back.
Unfortunately, after she’s roped into prepping the wedding feast with La tante, Amy misses the girl’s audition. This almost derails her standing in the group but all is forgiven when they get in. Things are starting to look up and our protagonist revels in her new-found popularity. The fact she has to buy her friendships – courtesy of her mother’s hidden cash source – doesn’t seem to matter.
Alas, what goes up, often must come down and an unfortunate incident labels the girls the kids they really are – despite dance moves to the contrary. Amy is forced (in her mind) to take drastic action to counter this and it spells the beginning of the end for her friendships.
Could their final dance cement them back together? And, with her father’s wedding on the same day, will she even make it?
And, the million dollar question: is all this really worth it?
It isn’t easy to watch this film – the ‘sexy’ dance scenes are deliberately designed to make the viewer uncomfortable. The hyper-sexual moves are grotesque and exaggerated, and that’s kind of the point.
These children more or less live in an ungoverned environment with little adult supervision (not passing any blame on Mariam, who’s holding down the home and three children while her husband enjoys his new relationship) and it leaves them to fall foul of the horror of society today. Social media, unattainable beauty ideals, sexualisation at far too young an age – it’s all very real and it makes me worry for my nieces when I finally get them.
I did see some of my own adolescence in this film – though I didn’t start quite as young. Trying to impress older boys, lying about our ages, the shaky fickle foundations on which my friendships were built. It all came back to me very quickly. Despite this, I think my generation was lucky to have dodged the social media bullet – I barely got through school as it is, I can’t imagine what the added pressure/distraction would have done to me.
At the final competition, the cuties perform their routine and the audience is truly shocked, watching agog while one member openly complains to a judge. It somehow breaks the spell, though that’s not the reason Amy can’t finish the routine – and returns home to her mother mid-flow. She’s rebelled so much against the oppressive ideals of her religious background – stealing, lying, posting images online – at what cost?
I know there is a lot more to say about this film but I feel like I need to ponder it further. I thought the central performances were great – the girls seemed authentic and are endearing at times in their total naïvety. In one scene, Coumba innocently blows up a pink balloon that turns out to be a condom. When her mates rib her (GEDDIT?!), she responds with “I didn’t know”, a single tear running down her face.
Despite the precociousness of the cuties, there are times their innocence shines through and that makes their burgeoning femininity/sexuality all the harder to stomach.
They’re self-aware enough to understand something about the world, though not fully. When they’re nabbed by a security guard at the local laser-quest, they accuse him of trying to grope them so they can get away. When this doesn’t work, a quick twerk from Amy frees them.
I personally think this film is worth a watch but I can understand why anyone would want to swerve it. I think it’s worth examining the message though. Although, one thing really doesn’t work for me: how does Amy go bloody weeks without a charger for that stolen phone? Watching YouTube positively rinses your battery, everyone knows that.