Film Review: Cuties

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They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad

Warning: The reviewer has seen this film so may articulate informed opinions in its appraisal. Those uninterested in this category of assessment shouldn’t read any further.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve missed a good old fashioned moral panic. It’s been a while since we’ve had a movie that brought out the tired, obnoxious argument that a story shouldn’t be told because it’s a threat to our values; the idea that we’re incorruptible, but weaker, more impressionable people may have their innate deviance stimulated by having society’s prurience, sadism and hypocrisy reflected back to it.

You might think such paternalism fails to understand the distinction between the subject of a story and its focus. You might also reflect that there’s not a mode of storytelling yet devised that enables you to explore difficult topics without dramatizing them. Maïmouna Doucouré, revisiting her childhood experiences, surely toyed with telling her tale using allegory, or abstract metaphor, but in the end concluded that might blunt the story’s brand of social and psychological realism.

Cuties features girls as young as 11 in hypersexualised situations. Consequently, it has been derided, for the most part by those who haven’t seen it, as indefensibly exploitative. To accept this on its face, you must believe the process of dramatization does not involve any form of critical and psychological distance from the acts and situations being portrayed, nor does it include layers of protection and care absent from the real world. If you’re such a person, I’ve got good news for you: Gaspar Noé didn’t really have Monica Bellucci raped in Irreversible. She’s okay, kids.

The cinematic apparatus, coupled with adult supervision, should be reassuring to audiences. So too the presence of a female director whose interest is not in titillation, indeed any form of lasciviousness, but the damage, trauma and anxiety to the principle character wrought from patriarchal forms of oppression. But as usual, excitable commentators, and pearl clutching prigs, bay for Doucouré’s blood – even question whether Netflix, who made the film, should be cancelled because of it.

It’s hard to believe that 120 years of cinema hasn’t cured us of this idiocy. But for those not used to the vérité brand of French cinema – who’ve never seen a Catherine Breillat movie, who – ironically given the controversy, have been infantized by Hollywood, the impetus to make the film, and, fuck me, make it available to a wide audience, must be very difficult to understand.

The movie reflects a reality – that wayward kids, conditioned by social media, and a sexualised culture, are in a hurry to grow up and get noticed. But that, as should be bleeding obvious, is symptomatic of the issue under glass; the impetus is what Doucouré’s interested in.

In Fathia Youssouf Abdillahi’s Amy, a French Senegalese Muslim, growing up a strict household, with a mother bereft at the decision of her absent husband to take a second wife, the film identifies the girl’s compulsion to rebel and seek attention as a reaction to her father’s neglect. But it’s also a conscious repudiation of his use of Islamic attitudes and practices to betray her mother, and bind all the women in her family – her, her mother, her auntie, to servitude; a subordinate status that’s accepted a little less by each succeeding generation.

As the story progresses, it’s clear that beyond the superficial liberation promised by dressing up and twerking for an audience of lewd Dads, their wives and daughters notably shocked, Amy’s really looking for a way to avoid the build up to her Dad’s forthcoming celebration of institutionalised bigamy, and everything it symbolises.

Not for nothing is Amy’s wedding dress – coded as traditional and respectable, in contrast to her skimpy dance gear, a source of great anxiety. The film expects its mature audience to note the contrast between two distorted forms of female sexuality – the uncomfortable glitz and premature sexualising of girls in the world of the online-driven dance troupe; the pornification of childhood; and the regressive Islamic alternative, that tells Amy she’s a woman the moment she starts to menstruate, and that having become one, her only role in life to obey her future husband and cook his meals. Curiously, not a single one of the movie’s detractors is angry about that.

Ultimately, Cuties, though undoubtedly uncomfortable viewing in grabs, is a sincere and heartfelt plea for a moderate form of childhood – one in which young girls are free to express and know themselves without the burden of extreme forms of male expectation, whether that beast shows itself as a monster or is camouflaged in pre-modern righteousness.

Those who say the film shouldn’t exist or Netflix are at fault for making it available to a global audience, have to answer the question: if you think there’s a shortage of black, female experience on film, is it a good idea to become censorious when it arrives? The audience may have some growing up to do.

Directed by: Maïmouna Doucouré

Country: France

Year: 2020

Running Time: 96 mins

Certificate: 15 for absent Dads, exploitative dance competition organisers, and misogyny as virtue.

28 Responses

  1. qbe says:

    Say it with me:

    This.
    film.
    commits.
    pedophilia.
    crime.
    therefore.
    is.
    illegal.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      The film celebrates and encourages the sexualisation of children? That’s weird, I didn’t see that. But then I watched the movie. It really aids the understanding when you do that.

      But yes, it goes without saying that Netflix would release a film that had been made using illegal activity. Have you checked out their snuff category?

      • Ed Whitfield is a ********* says:

        You’re a fucking moron and a pedophile. This movie is the equivalent to beating a dog to death as a message against animal cruelty.

        The nice thing though is thanks to the culture people like you created you will be homeless and jobless in a few years because of this.

        Enjoy getting cancelled pedophile.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          I’ve updated the title of your comment to make it legal, as I know you care very much about legality in all things. I’m sure you believe what you’ve written, and it represents a sincere conviction on your part and is not just a knee jerk, mindless comment from a little bitch who knocks on someone’s door then runs away. Because I know you believe it, I know you’re going to repeat it using your real name and identifying e-mail address, so I can sue you for libel. I have your IP address of course, and that’s a start, and you will be investigated. I look forward to testing your claim legally, with my review pitted against the weight and majesty of your carefully considered, nuanced argument. With luck I’ll get to cancel you. Sleep well.

          • James Richardson fucks kids says:

            You. Are. Sick. A film that has 11 year old girls twerking and wearing skimpy, “sexy” clothing, pulling down their trousers to photograph themselves and post online. What the hell is wrong with you? You leftists view yourselves as progressives but you’re nothing more than Epstein proteges. There’s a place in hell reserved you and the rest of you kiddie fiddler kind.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            James, you’re a moron. But thanks for having the decency to identify yourself, it’s going to make suing you for libel much easier. Sleep well, arsehole – you’ll be hearing from me soon.

      • Don't matter says:

        As a could only stomach 1/2 of what looks to be a final dance scene, there are ways to show what the director was trying to accomplish without literally showing an 11 year old’s crotch and behind and other positions and Without literally showing the 11 year olds looking like they are wanting sex. It’s appalling. In a backwards religion, coming of age is 11 years old. In Western culture, it’s definitely not.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          I’m not sure you understand the difference between something being carefully staged with a film crew with responsible adults on set, and hired extras, and that thing happening in the real world. If you can accept that it’s pretend, with the actors understanding they’re representing something not actually soliciting the deviant desire of real people, then you’ve understood how the cinematic depiction of things work. This applies to movies where children witness violence too, or where adults are subjected to traumatising and exploitative forms of behaivour that we condemn in the real world. Now you know how movies work, I hope you can sit through many more of them.

          • Mr. B Terrible says:

            These pearl-clutchers just want a cause so they’ve created a narrative to help them feel like their slacktivism is actually helping society. In actuality it comes down to spreading misinformation and then screaming FAKE NEWS every time someone speaks facts.

            In separate but similar news: remember when CONFEDERATE was boycotted before it was released because idiots thought it was going to glorify slavery?

            I wonder if these people think that Schindler’s List is pro-Nazi because it shows Nazis in it…

            no ideological consistency.

            Great write-up.

  2. anonymous says:

    Could not have said it better myself. Your review was spot on, and the people who are sticking their heads in the sand yelling pedophilia instead of watching it clearly lack critical thinking.

  3. Tired of this says:

    To tell the story that bestiality is “bad,” there’s a movie that will go as far as showing a woman and her intimate relationship with her dog to prove that it’s bad. Why does that film need to made in the first place?

    Yes, you’re grooming by speaking up in favor of this film.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      The only thing I’m doing apparently, is bringing idiots out of the woodwork. I look forward to you repeating your accusation with your real name and e-mail address.

      It’s not for you to tell a black, female filmmaker that she’s not entitled to tell her story. I feel sorry for Maïmouna Doucouré. She got a film made, which is fucking hard, and took great care in ensuring it represented– key word – her experience, and now has to deal with people like you. What a life.

      • James Richardson fucks kids says:

        Nope. You don’t get to play victim when you’re pushing this filth. Life is hard. Exploiting kids to tell a story about exploiting kids is sick. You. Are. Wrong.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          Nope – you don’t get to make an accusation like that and get away with it. You crossed the line when you decided to make a comment about me, instead of the review of a film I suspect you haven’t seen. You don’t know what you’re talking about – you’re a clueless cunt who doesn’t understand the difference between a staged event and a real event. You have no evidence that children were exploited in the making of the picture, and you don’t have the right to decide what is and isn’t made. Netflix didn’t pay for and distribute a film made with illegal practices. That should be obvious, even to an imbecile like you. You can either withdraw your comments or be sued. Your choice. Decide quickly.

          • Frank says:

            People are allowed to say you are an idiot, you can’t sue them for that… I think you may have a hard time proving you are not.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            No Frank, it was the part about being a padeophile that’s libellous. But thanks for confirming your own idiot credentials by missing the point, despite having the aid of a mammoth fucking conversation in text form to help you.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          And by the way, don’t think hiding behind a VPN will help you either. It won’t.

          • James Richardson fucks kids says:

            You’re literally an idiot aren’t you? Sue me. Go on tough guy. Over an objectively true comment. Idiot. Have you ever considered that maybe you’re wrong and not the people criticizing you? Of course you haven’t. You’re a liberal activist pushing the boundaries of right and wrong to end up with… with what? Men legally f**king kids? You. Are. Sick. Try sue me buddy, I dare you – I double dare you – a jury of your peers ain’t gonna protect someone defending kiddie fiddling.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            James – let me make this clear to you, and try to keep up – one word at a time. There is no sex between adults and children in this film. None. The girls in the movie sexualise themselves for attention – driven by a culture of hypersexualisation in social media and society-at-large. With me so far, idiot? The main character does it because she’s rebelling against a strict muslim upbringing, that’s told her her only role in life is to be modest and serve men. When her Dad exercises the hypocrisy gifted to him by their religion, and takes a second wife, devastating her mother, it spurs her to rebel against her upbringing. It’s not about sex, it’s two sides of the same coin – namely women oppressed by male expectations. Geddit? That’s what the movie is actually about. Not what you heard on YouTube – but the film-as-made.

            Now let me educate you on the law. The moment you badged me as a pedophile, for assessing the film objectively, you made an accusation about me personally – divorced from the film. You were stupid enough to put it in writing and put your name to it. That’s breaking the law as it relates to libel. That is why, unless you withdraw it, you WILL be sued. I will take great pleasure in pursuing you and forcing you to account for your comments. I know you will fall at the first hurdle, because you’re a righteous, ill-informed prick, who doesn’t know a thing about the subject he’s presuming to discuss. Think on, but don’t take your time – I have limited patience.

          • James Richardson fucks kids says:

            And by the way, I’ll give you a chance to delete your comment also, maybe apologize for the obscene language you used – a total over reaction and disgusting behavior from, presumably, an adult(?). I’m actually a little offended – where’s my safe space? Mummy, someone’s challenging my radical world views. Lol. You liberal Hitlers are such babies.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            You know nothing about my politics, James, you’re a fucking dunce. By the way, nothing. You will retract the remark and apologise unconditionally or I will begin the process of identifying your location, and taking action against you. It’s a simple as that. There’s no debate. Decide.

          • James Richardson fucks kids says:

            Erm… your politics. Yep. Yes I do. When you’re defending a film like this, bullying people over reasonable assertions based on the words you’ve said, threatening them with legal action (immediately!!) in order to silence dissenting viewpoints. All of these things are leftwing “liberal” tactics (agree with me or be destroyed!). Fear mongering. That’s all it is – that’s all you can do. One day, you’ll wake up and say, “did I really make the world a better place by threatening to rain destruction on anyone and everyone who disagrees with me?” (which I suspect is QUITE a few people) – but then again, people like you Red Guards aren’t interested in deeper thought – you’re interested in the narrative. Btw, encouraging replies by replying to the reply-er – don’t think that’s going to look good now, do you? I’m going now – double-plus good, aye Comrade? P.s. go f**k yourself.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            Thanks for the amateur psychology but his isn’t about dissenting viewpoints. You’re entitled to whatever view you like on the movie being discussed, however ill-informed and unreasonable, but you are not entitled to make an accusation that I participate in illegality. That is both a violation of libel law and this site’s community guidelines. That, as I’ve patiently tried to explain to you, is the line you crossed immediately. What the replies to the reply will show, James, and this is the point of them – is that I gave you multiple opportunities to retract the comment, but you decided not to – because you’re a puffed up moron more interested in having the last word, even when you know you’ve fucked up, than being right. I gave you a chance. I will now pursue you as a warning to others who may be tempted to make similar idiotic accusations, because I have zero tolerance for being harassed by online trolls – particularly those as offensively stupid as you.

          • James Richardson fucks kids says:

            Wow, I’ve just seen this.

            You attempt to dox me (not sure where you got Vietnam from – I’m closer to Singapore if we’re going by Asian countries), you change my user on here to suggest I partake in illegal acts, you call me all sorts of names and pejoratives. And what did I do to you?

            In my first message, I said that you don’t get to play victim when you’re pushing this filth. I said that life is hard. And I said that exploiting kids to tell a story about exploiting kids is sick – there’s literally a scene in this film with an 11 year old girl flashing (real or fake, the end product is the same), multiple crotch shots of minors etc. and an official warning about child pornography in the credits.

            I said that you are wrong and I stand by that.

            After your initial threats against me, I called an idiot – a mistake in retrospect, I was wrong about that. Based on your subsequent behavior, you’re mentally unstable aren’t you? You can’t stand when an ordinary person criticizes you based on what you’ve said in context. In your review, you say audiences need to grow up – where’s your growing up? When will that happen?

            A quick scroll through your replies on here, you’ve threatened just about everyone. Why have a comments section at all if you’re only interested in view points that exactly match yours? If everyone agrees with everyone about everything, why converse at all? Stop acting out, stop trying to force apologies by threatening, doxxing, altering screen names. Accept the criticism, accept that it may be merited based on the examples I’ve given above, and move on.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            “What did I do to you?” asks the disingenuous, dishonest troll. Well, I’ll remind you. Here’s your opening salvo – your actual first message, rather than the one you’re now badging as such.

            You. Are. Sick. A film that has 11 year old girls twerking and wearing skimpy, “sexy” clothing, pulling down their trousers to photograph themselves and post online. What the hell is wrong with you? You leftists view yourselves as progressives but you’re nothing more than Epstein proteges. There’s a place in hell reserved you and the rest of you kiddie fiddler kind.

            I bet that sounded really clever and on-point to you when you typed it.

            This is not a criticism of my review. It has nothing to do with my review. You’ve heard about a scene in a movie you haven’t watched, you’ve noted the review supports the movie and you’ve reacted with an accusation, levelled at me personally that I’m an “Epstein protege”, and a “kiddie fiddler”. Anyone reading this chain can see that. Like all trolls you project – so you pretend I’m part of the online mob that tries to suppress views it doesn’t like, but you’re describing yourself.

            At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, you’re the arsehole that came here with personal abuse, and an attempt to shame me for writing a legitimate, balanced and informed review. You’re the cunt trying to suppress free speech. Having done so, you then tell me, in another act of projection, that I’m abusive and I don’t have the right to play the victim. But I am the victim, of your abuse and idiocy. There’s certainly no victims in the piece of fiction you’re talking about – the movie you haven’t seen, financed by Netflix, made by a crew of 77, all of whom, according to you, must have been made up exclusively of paedophiles – presumably to fill an underrepresented quota and be eligible for the oscars. To repeat: you have no evidence at all that children were exploited making this film. None. The Director of this movie is rallying against the exploitation of women and girls, calling out what happened to her in the real world. Give yourself a slow hand clap for condemning her for doing so, you virtue signalling dickhead.

            So now you come back and attempt to retcon your comments, which isn’t going to work I’m afraid. And by the way, the fact you think “real or fake the end product is the same”, further confirms you’re a fucking moron. There’s no warning about child pornography – there’s a warning the film contains scenes that involve children portrayed in sexualised situations (the majority of which is naive and overblown playground talk – part of the film’s social realist approach, e.g. the girls finding a used condom and believing you can catch cancer by touching it). That’s not the same thing. There’s no sex involving minors in this film. Can you understand that? Such a film would not be made and distributed by Netflix.

            As for mental instability – only someone as obtuse as you, who’s been corrected several times over, who’s had the film explained to them – again, and has read a review where the film has been placed in its proper context and evaluated (your reply to my review decontexualises it, not the opposite as you claim), would still default to the online hysteria that’s been generated around it. It’s not me that needs a mental health check.

            People, like you, who hide on the internet and abuse people – the equivalent of spray painting abuse on someone’s door and running away, need to understand that such behaviour will be called out and responded to. This comments section, as you ask, is for responding to the criticism published on this site, to engage with the material under discussion. It’s not for morons to abuse the writer. There’s nothing legitimate about your so-called criticism, you haven’t provided any relevant examples because you haven’t seen the film – you don’t know what you’re talking about; your views are worth nothing.

            Recently, for the benefit of readers who may be following this non-debate with this imbecilic troll, I recently read this from Nick Cohen on the online hate mob – he’s talking about the abuse levelled at J.K Rowling, who’s recently been targeted for her new novel that’s allegedly transphobic. Like Cuties, most of the people who have piled on haven’t read the novel and are relying on self-righteous hate mobs online to tell them what’s in it – just as Mr Richardson did with this film.

            Here’s what he says:

            The object of a slanderer is to blacken the name of his target so thoroughly everything she says and does reinforces his slander. She can have no independent life or complexity. No one is free to say, although I disapprove of her views on X, I admire her for speaking out on Y. No quarter can be given or complexity acknowledged. The slander is all.

            Well, I won’t tolerate that, so any of you tempted to participate in such a thing will be called out for what you are and insulted in kind. If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t start down that road. This section is for views on the items being discussed only. Don’t comment if you don’t have an informed point of view. That shouldn’t need saying but apparently it does.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            Hi James,

            I confess, I failed. There are simply too many 28 year-old, barely cognisant Brits called James Richardson in the world. Given the imagined topic of our conversation, some readers may find it weird that you chose to use VPN to pretend you are in Hanoi of all places – unless of course you are there, but I doubt it. Hey, isn’t Vietnam where British men go to sleep with young girls, a la Gary Glitter? If you are over there, I hope you’re just visiting some temples.

            So I can’t force you to apologise. What I’ve done instead is note that you’ve levelled the same baseless accusation at yourself than you thoughtlessly and maliciously flung at me. I’ve never seen anyone identify themselves like this before – “James Richardson fucks kids”, but I can only assume you’re either confessing, proud or getting off on some kind of twisted fantasy. Still, it’s an ugly, and I hope, unfounded thing to say – much like your groundless and twisted accusation that I’m a “kiddie fiddler” because I reviewed a movie objectively without kowtowing to online hysteria generated by ignorant and thoughtless people.

            Of course, I can remove the offending words for you. But I would need an unconditional apology for the remarks you posted yesterday, and a full retraction. If not, you’re welcome to take action against the site – but that will mean identifying yourself. The jury of peers you talk about, might conclude that one disgusting, groundless, playground insult cancels out another – and that any response on my part, was forced on me by the difficulty one has in gaining redress when largely anonymised (and therefore brave) idiots, use the cover of the internet and the cloak of VPN to field abuse that would get them thumped in person.

            Anyway, enjoy Hanoi – but not too much, eh?

  4. Mr. B Terrible says:

    Ever notice how the ones that scream the loudest against HOMOSEXUALS are the ones getting caught with the young men in hotel rooms? …hmmm.

  5. Noni says:

    Very well thought out and articulated review. While I feel like some of the images were shocking and disgusting, I can’t say for sure if the movie would have the same effect or if it would become another generic coming-of-age film about a dance team without any of the depth or nuance. I grew up the daughter of Iranians who immigrated to America so I related very much with Amy’s struggles between the two cultural extremes and the sense of betrayal she feels from her father and the desire to be accepted by her peers. It’s sad that people can’t use critical thinking to separate reality from fiction, or that they can’t take the themes present in this film and translate them over to help their daughters, nieces and sisters who might be facing similar identity crises.

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