Love According to Dalva explores childhood manipulation, as Dalva learns how to be a young girl again when she is forced to grow up.
There’s an abundance of coming of age films that show an authentic representation of girls emerging into womanhood. Most notably, for me, Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood has constantly played on my mind. Sciamma’s portrayal of real women and girls is what always draws me back to her work time and time again. Emmanuelle Nicot’s debut feature film Love According to Dalva, or often just referred to as Dalva, feels like a long lost sister to Sciamma’s filmography. The sincereness of Nicot’s work shines throughout the runtime of Dalva, which contrasts significantly with the underlying theme of the film: child abuse.
Does Dalva (Zelda Samson) want to grow up or has she been unknowingly forced to? Dalva is only 12 but wants to dress more maturely and take a hold of her own future before even becoming a teenager. When Dalva is taken from her home, where she resides with her father, her life as she knows it is about to change. Dalva is unaware that the reason she has been ripped from living with her father is because he has been abusing her. Dalva had believed that it was her father’s way of showing love. But of course, she starts to realise that it was not coming from a place of love at all.
Dalva speaks with a gentle tone in her voice every time she says anything. The only time she doesn’t is when she’s arguing with someone, but that never lasts long. Dalva begins by dressing like an older woman, and then gives in to smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, even getting drunk one night with her new friends. Samia (Fanta Guirassy) is Dalva’s roommate at the foster home that she has been placed in. Samia doesn’t warm to her at first, calling Dalva a ‘whore’ for the way she dresses. Before long, they’re able to confide in each other like best friends as they lay in the dark in bed and talk to each other across the room.
For Dalva, her years of childhood that she has experienced so far have been ripped right from her. Nicot handles the calamitous theme of abuse admirably, focusing the entire story on Dalva and ending the film right before her father’s trial. We rarely get to see Dalva’s father. Most of the time we’re met with close ups of Dalva’s face. There’s a significant amount of close ups of Dalva in mirrors as she stares at herself, putting makeup on, or cutting her own hair. Even though Dalva is young, you can tell she is wise. The only reason she was unaware of the abuse is because it’s all she knew. She believed it was normal.
A kind of parental relationship is formed between Dalva and her social worker Jayden (Alexis Manenti). What is not apparent now to Dalva, but will become apparent in the near future, is that with her father no longer being in her life, there will be an empty space which she will try to fill. Jayden does no more than act as a social worker, but this positive influence from a father-like figure aids Dalva into reconnecting with her mother. Love According to Dalva ends so powerfully, with a full circle moment that also gives you a lot to take in, as the titles roll, about what the future holds for Dalva. She may have finally realised what had happened with her father, but it’s only the beginning of him reaping the consequences.
Samson’s launch into the world of film is a very brave one. Having appeared in nothing on the screen before, Love According to Dalva is her first ever role. Acting in a film with such a distressing topic must have been a hard one, but Samson is phenomenal. This year has already been such a great year for young actresses on screen. A memorable performance was made by Charlotte De Bruyne in When It Melts, another film which handles trauma in a delicate way. Guirassy is great too as Dalva’s roommate, adding a little humour to the role. Samson is very serious but luckily, she knows how to be playful in the right moments.
Love According to Dalva is a hard one to recommend purely because of the film’s themes. However, it’s a carefully made one. We get to watch Dalva bounce back into her childhood again, one which she has dolefully lost. There’s a sense of optimism for the future even though it’s uncertain. All we know is that Dalva is slowly learning to be herself again, and that’s all we could wish for.
Love According to Dalva will open in cinemas across the UK & Ireland on Friday 28th April 2023.