Emmanuelle Nicot’s Love According to Dalva arrives at the French Film Festival UK, quietly absorbing viewers as it explores a young victim of abuse trying to find her path in life. A stellar turn from newcomer Zelda Samson brings Nicot’s feature debut to life as it questions if one can regain one’s childhood innocence after trauma.
Twelve year old Dalva lives alone with her father until she is taken into foster care after a police raid on her home. Forced to adapt to live in her new foster home, Dalva forges relationships with her peers and social workers, where she gradually begins to understand her relationship with her father was not what she once thought.
Opening with the sounds of an intense scuffle and the calls of police officers raiding Dalva’s home, Nicot’s feature gradually unwinds the mysteries of this seemingly normal home. An invasive strip search and re-placement at a foster home are two of the life-altering events that showcase the twelve year old’s whirlwind journey from her usual surroundings. Nicot unpeels the layers of Love According to Dalva gradually unveiling the abuses faced by the manipulated youth by her sole caregiver, her father. We gain a sense of the overwhelming changes to Dalva’s life through DoP Caroline Guimbal’s use of point of view shots exploring Dalva being shown around her unsettled new foster home.
The quiet Dalva internalises much of her experience, with the twelve year old holding an uneasy poise and demeanour of a woman much older than her biological age. Dressed with a trench coat, her hair in a bun and dangling vintage earrings, Dalva’s costuming represents her being unjustly dragged into the world of adulthood, when only a child – her dress representing a stolen innocence and sped-up maturing. Dalva’s peers in her foster home remark ‘She looks like my grandma from back in the day’ and ‘What year is it?’ Dalva’s dress sense becomes representative of her traumatic past, her father treating the child as a romantic partner and not a daughter.
Love According to Dalva impresses in its depiction of the titular character reconnecting with her childhood – fighting and processing gradual realisations of the abuses she has experienced. Coping with the return of her distant mother and navigating relationships with fellow youths and social workers, Dalva must learn how to behave again and leave behind the remnants of her father’s abuse. Zelda Simmons delivers a complex turn, exploring Dalva’s panic and rebellion as she struggles to cope with these revelations – the unsettling poise and faux maturity which she initially exhibits being worn away to reveal a damaged young girl behind it. There’s a quietly uplifting quality in seeing Dalva regain some control throughout – forging relationships with her roommate Samia (Fanta Guirassy) and establishing healthier friendships with boys her own age.
Emmanuelle Nicot tackles a particularly challenging theme in a quietly compelling manner, gradually exploring the aftershock of abuse and the small steps to recovery taken by Dalva. An impressively complex and understated turn from Simmons helps ground this tale further and present this in an impactful manner.