Love According to Dalva
Emmanuelle Nicot’s debut feature is a sobering one, but one which is finely tuned to the intricacies of childhood trauma. Its title character, portrayed with arresting impact and nuance by newcomer Zelda Samson, is introduced to us in the maelstrom of the emotionally violent arrest of her father (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h). Dalva, a 12-year-old girl who wears the clothes and makeup of an adult woman, is subsequently taken into foster care, where she must begin to unpick the damage caused by her sexually abusive relationship with her father, with whom she lived alone.
Still in the grip of his inculcation, Dalva is firm in her belief that the nature of their relationship was a natural manifestation of familial love, while her uncannily adult disposition sees her initially outcast by the other children in the foster home’s care and the students in her school. Her roommate, Samia (Fanta Guirassey), initially abrasive and dismissive of Dalva’s presence, soon becomes her closest friend at the home, bonding over their respective childhood’s false starts. The community of children at large in the home is richly cultivated by Nicot, a shared yet silent understanding between them that they are claiming back their pre-adolescence. They may encourage Dalva to drink and smoke from time to time, but through them she begins to piece together the truth, of her own identity, and of the perversion of her youth. Yes, Dalva meditates on grievous trauma, but these scenes provide hope and light at the end of a bleak tunnel.
Comparisons to Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, a film which also wrestles with abusive childhood incarceration and the healing process which ensues upon escape, have already been cited. Where Nicot’s dissection of these themes distinguishes itself, however, is the absolute commitment to Dalva’s point of view, which Nicot dexterously maintains throughout the duration. Dalva’s mistrust of her well-meaning carer (Alexis Mantenti) becomes our distrust. Therefore, the intricate study of the impact of abuse on children is realised with crystal clarity, with Dalva’s equation of care, love and sex, the focal point of machinations.
At every stage, Nicot’s direction is also at pains to avoid the melodramatic doldrums that such a story could elicit. Instead, Love According to Dalva is an appropriately measured act of subtlety and nuance, which lets Samson’s central performance of complex strength, and the thematic intricacies of Nicot’s screenplay, speak for themselves.
Love According to Dalva is released in select cinemas on 28th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Love According to Dalva here: