Director: Emmanuelle Nicot | Script: Emmanuelle Nicot, Jacques Akchoti, Bulle Decarpentries | Cast: Zelda Samson (Dalva), Alexis Manenti (Jayden), Fanta Guirassy (Samia), ea | Time to play: 87 minutes | Year: 2022
All senses are heightened in one fell swoop as the screaming Dalva is snatched from her Jacques. The director Emmanuelle Nicot puts the cards face up on the table with the subsequent police investigation: Father Jacques had a relationship with his twelve-year-old daughter Dalva. The fact that Nicot opens with a Franco-Belgian film about incest and pedophilia while the Dutroux case is etched in the Belgian collective memory shows grit. dalva it’s a subtle balancing act between a horrifying reality and a tender, inside-out coming-of-age story.
Like she’s fallen into her mother’s old costume box, unworldly Dalva introduces herself to her new surroundings at the youth hostel. With her hair up, deep red lipstick, pearl earrings and black stockings, she reluctantly embarks on a search for her lost childhood. Nicot makes it an empathic journey by putting the plot entirely in the service of Dalva’s trauma processing rather than Jacques’ penance. He avoids sensationalism and emphasizes Jacques’ humanity during the two brief moments in which he brings the viewer face to face with him.
Dalva turns out to be more brainwashed than his handlers initially think, which becomes painfully clear during a Dalva-forced visit to Jacques in prison. Secretly, she has donned a revealing dress under her thick pink winter coat and when her father walks in, he quickly lets her coat slide off. The image of Dalva’s naked girlish back makes the hairs on the nape of her neck stand on end. The exasperated look on the youth worker Jayden is very understandable.
Against the backdrop of Dalva’s struggle with himself, the shocking reality of an overcrowded shelter becomes apparent. Subtly, Nicot gives the viewer access to an institution experiencing an explosion in demand for attention that is also regularly in the news in the Netherlands. Young workers like good old Jayden are having a hard time keeping up with the mounting pressure. Dalva’s sensitive roommate Samia, who serves as a toy in a game between youth services and her family, is a poignant example of system cracking.
Supported by Samia, who cares for her as a mentor, Dalva begins to see that she is not an adult woman, but a girl who has just started her period. The friendship that develops between the two girls is touching. Dalva’s slowly growing dyed hair symbolizes the transformation that the complex character goes through and is impressively captured by the very young debutant Zelda Samson.
With apparent simplicity, Samson manages to alternate between learned femininity and childish innocence. Supported by dreamy music, subdued camerawork and subtle supporting roles, Samson breaks the oppressive 4:3 format with his impressive performance and turns it into dalva despite the weight of the subject, an honest and loving portrait.