Dance and Dreams in Divines

The French movie Divines (2016), directed by Uda Benyamina, looks into the tragic reality of people that are not born privileged and have to find their place in the world, making money and becoming adults a lot sooner than their peers. Dounia is a young adult searching for her identity in a very unfair world. Her mother is not concerned about her wellbeing and the lack of money of her family weighs on Dounia’s shoulders, leading her to work inside an illegal business for a girl at her school. Through her illegal ordeals, she discovers her beauty and its potential, using it to seduce a dancer she spies on every day.

The contrast between the rough world she belongs to and the beauty of the dance performance is striking. The first time she witnesses dancers training, Dounia challenges her best friend Maimouna to spit on one of them. When he realises what they were doing, he chases after Dounia but is unable to truly catch her because of his fear of heights. Dounia helps him to climb on a safe spot, saving his life. The first reaction Dounia has towards the world of dance is of scorn and disrespect, considering it something that is too distance from her own life experience.

However, she must re-consider her beliefs, as she starts to secretly watch the dancer during his training. The simple fact Dounia spies on the dancer every day is an indication of how inadequate she feels when confronted with an alternative reality from her own. She feels like she can only witness that reality from afar, unable to truly come in contact with it, because she feels it does not belong to her. The dancers represent an alternative reality she can aspire to achieve in the future, an alternative and better world from her own she wants to be a part of. Even though Dounia does not dare to believe she will be able to engage with it, it is the only scope of hope she perceives in her life.

When Dounia finally meets the dancer that she spied on, she slowly starts to consider a relationship with him as a possible reality for her future, far from illegal deeds and poverty. Symbolic of her acceptance of this possibility is the dance they engage with when she reveals her name to him. After, they arrange to meet at the station to take a train together, a moment symbolically marking Dounia moving on to her new life far from where she was born.

Before escaping Dounia wants to store away some money, completing an illegal task requiring her to fake being a prostitute to steal 100,000€. This ordeal requires Dounia to miss the dancer’s performance, signifying once again that she has to choose between the two worlds. Dounia choosing the illegal path foreshadows what she will choose later on in the movie and also implies that she prefers the hardcore reassurance of money to the hopeful dream of a pretty world. Images of the people employed in the nightclub are in sharp contrast with the clients. Those who sell their body are a colourful group of queer people of different ethnicities, those who look for bodies to buy are a select elite of white people.

When Dounia is ready to move on with her life, she receives a message from the girl she worked for stating she kidnapped Maimouna. This event forces her to go back to where she came from to save her, meaning she must once and for all forget her dreams of living a different life. Dounia’s attempt is impressive but useless, because Maimouna tragically dies in the flames. Dounia is somehow doomed to remain where she is in a society that is not as inclusive as it might want to make people believe. Dounia and her class peers are doomed to remain in their place, unaided and scorned by the authorities. Despite its criticisms, the ending proves that no matter how hard Dounia tries, her attempts at a different life will fail.

-Lisa Greghi

Featured Image Source: Divines / Netflix / Trailer via Youtube

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