by Emmanuelle Nicot
Franco-Belgian film, 1h20
With the energy of despair, she screams and struggles all the time from the police raid that has come to arrest a man. Finally mastered, she looks like an offended little lady with her demure bun that traps her red hair, her too dark lipstick and her black clothes. But her troubled chubby face: woman or child? After a gynecological examination, Dalva is entrusted to an educator, Jayden, who accompanies her to an emergency reception center for adolescents. She is only 12 years old and a rock-solid determination to find her father, who has just been arrested. “A mistake,” she explains.
Disturbing, Emmanuelle Nicot’s first film focuses on Dalva’s confinement. She saw the placement in a home as an incarceration. But her real prison is elsewhere, in the grip built by her father around her. Dalva expresses a dazed incomprehension: why does she have to stay there? why don’t they let her see the one she calls Jacques? what do we blame his father for, who “never hurt” him? She claims the right to love him as a woman.
The filmmaker first films a physical transformation. To go to school, Dalva has to give up lace dress, black jacket and make-up. Jean, T-shirt and bare face give her the impression of falling behind – if her father, so attached to her appearance, saw her in this carelessness… Then will come the psychic change. Through the questions and remarks of her new entourage, Dalva gradually opens her eyes to the abyss that separates her from the others and adjusts the pieces of her intimate puzzle with tiny touches. No, she never chose her own clothes. Yes, she always dyed her hair – or rather it was her father who took care of turning her into a redhead. With all her rage, she clings to the armor made by him that reflections threaten to destroy. Like when a teenager, unaware of the identity of Dalva, evokes the arrest of a man “because he was hiding his daughter to rape her”.
Emmanuelle Nicot draws with small touches, after the grip, the slow reconstruction in a reception center. As in Petites by Julie Lerat-Gersant in theaters since February, the teenager is torn from an abusive parent under the guise of love and must make a perilous journey in an institution to conquer a devastating lucidity: what will be left for her in the face of the observation of the manipulation, lies and violence of his only parent?
In Dalva, the subject, more radical, nevertheless remains shrouded in delicacy. Zelda Samson portrays this unfathomable kid, whom incest has frozen between two ages, disturbing by dint of defending her father. She is also upsetting by the existential vertigo that is hers: what is the love of her father worth, who has assigned her a place as a wife and whom society designates as a monster? The film manages to show without ambivalence the feelings of a child deprived of freedom of thought, cut off from herself by a powerful denial.
In her slow metamorphosis, Dalva meets Samia at home, made abrasive by her mother’s lack of interest. Past the remarks against this strange girl with whom she has to share her room, Samia listens to Dalva without judgment. The support comes mainly from Jayden, who represents the hated institution but also offers a stable framework and decodes the rules of a world from which Dalva was removed at the age of 5 by her father.
Alexis Manenti, formidable in Les Misérables, reveals another facet of his talent as a benevolent educator, capable both of breaking the ice of professionalism to laugh with Dalva at his kicks and of rejecting without ambiguity the attempts at seduction of this child raised in a complete confusion between affection and sexuality.
The accuracy of the film is probably due to the immersion of Emmanuelle Nicot in a reception center for adolescents and to the experience of her brother, educator, model to forge the character of Jayden. His story, modest and eloquent, intelligently follows a chaotic path back to childhood.