An inner explosion, a deaf shock wave: this is how we would describe the effect produced by the first feature film by French director Emmanuelle Nicot, Dalva- named after his young heroine. A child of 12, pretty as a heart, aged several years by a hairstyle, clothes, make-up, an attitude which are not of her age. Looks like a little lady, neat and responsible. Before knowing more, this vision creates trouble, disturbs, imbalance. We don’t get used to it. We will have to deal with this discomfort caused by the image sent back to us by the mirror: the portrait of a child victim of an incestuous father. Who, for a decade, struggled to raise and transform his daughter into a woman – “his” wife.
The real came to feed a fiction to which the director chose to add a dry writing, like the subject
The opening sequence of the film translates this abomination into chaos at the same time as it signals its end. Police officers violently burst into the house, arrest the father, try to subdue a furious, screaming Dalva (Zelda Samson), struggling like the devil not to be torn from this man. Emmanuelle Nicot’s carried camera, the tight framing (sometimes to the point of abstraction), the rapid cutting express the urgency and evoke a cataclysm commensurate with what has happened between these walls for years. We will keep in mind this first scene, similar to a badly closed scar which acts as a reminder each time Dalva revolts.
Taken then placed in a reception center for minors, she gives a hard time to those around her, the other girls, the psychologists and her educator (Alexis Manenti). Stubborn and rebellious, Dalva tends towards a single desire: to find her father, obtain visitation rights in prison, speak to him and show him her support as well as her attachment. She has only lived with him, without exit rights – the mother having left when her daughter was 2 years old – and only loves him. In the center, Dalva continues to play her role as a woman. She refuses to mingle with children of her age. And discourages those who try to educate her on the notion of incest, who work to get her out of denial – the prison from which she draws her survival – to finally bring her back to childhood.
Magnificent and disconcerting
It is this reverse journey that is the subject – and all the intelligence – of Emmanuelle Nicot’s film. Path that the director takes in an exemplary way, keeping a good distance thanks to an unfailing rigor, both in the use of ellipses and in the composition of the story and the setting. By refusing to show the unshowable, but acting without flinching when it comes to revealing the mechanisms and the ravages of crime. One thinks of the work of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade (On your enemy cheek2008; 3 X Manon2014 ; Laetitia2019) whose films strive to transform news items (studied, told in a documentary way) into fictional dramas, both intense and respectful of the characters.
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