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The Franco-Belgian film ‘Dalva’, which is being screened as part of Cannes Critics’ Week, tells the story of a young girl who has been wrenched from the grip of her abusive father and must learn to live like a child her age again. A compelling psychological dive exploring issues of control, consent and resilience. Maintenance.
A police raid on his home and ‘Dalva’, 12, finds himself in a shelter overnight. Separated from her father, the young girl, who dresses and makes up like a woman twice her age, feels she is experiencing an injustice. Accompanied by an educator and his roommate, young Dalva will gradually unnerve himself to relearn life.
This pitch is the starting point for the first feature film by Belgian director Emmanuelle Nicot. Selected as part of Critics’ Week at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, ‘Dalva’ is a hard-hitting film which, through the masterful portrayal of the young Zelda Samson, tackles a difficult subject without any pathos. Meeting on the Croisette with the filmmaker Emmanuelle Nicot.
France 24: Your film “Dalva” deals with trauma caused by incest, an extremely difficult subject: why did you choose this subject for a first feature film ?
Emmanuelle Nicot: First of all, there is the very personal topic of influence, which I have already dealt with intensively in my short films. I wanted to continue this work with “Dalva”.
For my last project, I had the opportunity to do an immersion in a youth emergency room. There I met many children who had been housed for documented abuse and who continued to unite with their families against justice. Children who remained under their parents’ control, sometimes years after their placement. I had been working on the marital and friendship influence, but I didn’t realize how strong it can be in the family context with children.
There was also a story that a friend told me. Her tutor father intervened to accommodate a six-year-old girl who lived alone with her father. He discovered a hyper-sensuous, sexual and eroticized child. This story worked for me, I wondered what she would have become at the age of 12, at the time of the first emotions, puberty, and that’s how the film “Dalva” was born.
The film is based on the character played by Zelda Samson and plays with the ambiguity of her age. How did you recruit this actress and work on this child-woman character? ?
I imagined a little girl who was middle class or even wealthy, a very graceful, very porcelain doll. I placed ads in equestrian centers, classical dance and music schools. But the profiles didn’t match because there was no counterpoint between the Dalva created by his father and the Dalva without him. And then I fell in love with Zelda, a very wild little girl, very wild with a dark look, something very cheeky. It worked right away, this contrast relieved the figure immediately.
She has both a very chubby face and a very cinematic side. Her physique changes depending on how she is filmed, she can appear very feminine or very childlike. We worked with a trainer, a former dancer, on how to stand and walk, who accompanied her throughout the shoot to correct her postures: sitting, eating, etc. A lot of research was also done on clothing and hairstyle, because we didn’t want “Dalva” to be a Lolita. She is a young girl with the grace of a lady, so it was absolutely necessary not to eroticize and vulgarize her. Finally, we set up psychological support to ensure that the shooting of our young actress goes as well as possible.
In recent years, the #MeToo scandals have significantly raised awareness of psychological and sexual violence against women. As for the more specific topic of incest, it feels like things are moving at a slower pace, how are you feeling? ?
I started writing on this subject six years ago, at a time when very little was being said about incest. Then there was the #MeToo wave of incest cases coming to light. I am thinking in particular of the book by Camille Kouchner (where the author accuses her stepfather of incest with her twin brother, Ed, in the late 1980s). But the question of incest came up faster; it was stalled again and remains a taboo subject because of the extent of its effects, because to denounce means to explode the entire family sphere.
I believe that there is a lack of awareness on this subject as well. During the casting I realized that no child knew the meaning of incest. It’s a word not taught to children, while according to statistics, this problem affects an average of two children per class. For us it was out of the question for children to pass the exams without knowing what the film is about.
Each time I called the parents and asked them to raise the issue with their children so they could knowingly decide whether or not they would pass the audition. Of course, the children’s criticism of this word is not the same as that of adults. For her, the filming experience was mostly a game, a first time and the magic of shooting. For adult actors like Alexis Manenti, who plays the educator, the subject was much more difficult to grasp.
Finally, you will have the privilege of seeing your very first film selected at Cannes, the most prestigious film festival in the world. What is your reaction and what do you expect from this exhibition? ?
Of course I live that very well! I’m very happy because this spotlight can give the film a big boost at a difficult time for the cinema, when admissions are at half-mast. I’m also aware that this is a film that seems to tackle a difficult subject. I hope this exhibition makes you want to see them and overcome some fears you may have.
“Dalva” obviously talks about a very serious topic with the impact of incest on childhood. But it is also and above all a film about reconstruction. For me it is also a bright and sunny film, carried by the energy of its young actors. I want people to see it as a film full of hope.
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