Before I write my opinions about Rosine Mbakam’s Delphine’s Prayers, I want to compare it to her previous work, The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman. Faces made mall waves in festivals and retrosepctives worldwide for its depictions of motherhood. But I nitpicked on the film’s occasional tendencies for simplistic camerawork. There’s a sense of levity I feel when I look back on that critique because Delphine’s actually chooses simpler camera work in capturing her interviews with through a series of static long takes. The simplicity in the methods here surprisingly help her deliver her best work so far. Here, she brings the story of the titular subject who happens to be a former sex worker. (She now is in a marriage of convenience and a mother living in Belgium).
This actually makes for a good double bill with Faces because that previous work depicts an older dignified Black mother while this film captures an unflattering but real depiction of a Black woman who is a former sex worker. Never say never. But no documentary filmmaker will ever film me lying down on any room that I haven’t cleaned yet. I bring up the latter part because the interviews mostly take place in what seems like Delphine’s really messy bedroom. But those medium shots still capture the life of a woman. Despite her unhappy life and the racism she experiences in Belgium, those shots has evidence of some happiness.
Delphine, who is 30 during filming, wears different white blouses and blouses of different colours and different hairstyles and wraps. She is sometimes silent during the film’s few moments of downtime. Mbakam meticulously uses her camera to observe her subject while getting herself ready for a day of interviews. And of course, the interviews themselves have enough meat to make them compelling. She tells stories about her rancor with her father. The man, by the way, both slut shamed her in her community back home in Douala, Cameroon. Meanwhile, he also financially benefits from her work. She also reveals her tenuous ties with her family back home. For instance, she has a nephew she feels guilt about because she gave him financial advice.
It’s like the film allows its viewers to see Delphine the way she sees herself. There’s moments where Mbakam directs Delphine to either not saying anything for b-roll purposes, but she lets Delphine use her own words when other documentary filmmakers can interject more. She lets Delphine use words like ‘losing my virginity’. Even though yes, the latter eventually calls it the way we call it. Or guilt about her nephew for something she doesn’t need to feel guilty about. Lastly, she makes Delphine relatable by letting her wonder about the same things we do about her soul. It shows that she has the same questions as us, even if her burdens are obvious heavier. The film ends with Mbakam’s own words, assessing her relationship with her subject, which had the potential to spark discussion.
Delphine’s Prayers comes to OVID today.