The title character of writer-director Emmanuelle Nicot’s feature debut ‘Love according to Dalva’ is not like other girls her age. The 12-year-old dresses like a “lady,” as one of the girls at the youth shelter she was shipped to points out — meaning like a woman much older. There are lace blouses and neat skirts, there are pearl earrings and a messy updo. Dalva (Zelda Samson) doesn’t seem so much like someone who wants to look older than someone who doesn’t know how to act her age. Nicot follows the way Dalva will find her way back to being and feeling like the girl she is.
When we first meet Dalva, it’s not immediately clear why she’s so different from girls her age. This is because she was introduced to us kicking and screaming as the police take an elderly man (her father, it turns out) away from her. “Jacques!” she calls. “Dalva!” he responds. The two are inconsolable when officers do their best to tell them apart and drop the young girl off at a youth center where Dalva can only wonder why anyone would want to keep her away from her father.
The answer to that question may not seem obvious to her, but it is for everyone: to hear lawyers and social workers (and even classmates) tell, Dalva lived for years with a man who led her to believe that she to be in love. . The words “incest” and “pedophile” are thrown at her. She beats them away with aplomb. Nobody understands it. She is not forced to do anything. There has been nothing unpleasant about her (sexual) relationship with her father. There are valid reasons, she believes, why she hasn’t seen her mother in years, why she’s been homeschooled, why they’re constantly on the road, and why she’s been kept so isolated from her peers.
Much of “Love According to Dalva” keeps the audience close to the character. Physically, for starters: DP Caroline Guimbal films many of the scenes at the youth center and school from an uncomfortably close range where Samson often takes over the entire shot. Because of this, we don’t have any point of view to understand what is happening around Dalva. Sometimes it forces us to feel as disoriented as she does when accusations are thrown her way. Slowly Nicot opens up film and character. Even to bloom. As she develops a closer friendship with her roommate Saima (Fanta Guirassy) and begins to see her circumstances from other people’s perspectives, Dalva begins to change the worldview she’s long considered normal about who she loves and, crucially, how she lets herself be loved. to be.
Wading into such a thorny area, Nicot deserves credit for Dalva’s careful writing. There’s no judgment on how she was conceived let alone how she was shot. The air of condemnation that sometimes greets her at school, by girls who can’t understand, let alone empathize with, her plight (the kind Saima suggests Dalva ignores altogether), contrasts sharply with Nicot’s interest in telling her story. narrate.
But Samson must also be given credit. The young performer is radiant like Dalva, able to capture the constant bewilderment that ensues as this young girl reexamines everything she’s ever known. It may start with her slowly shedding her feminine looks and swapping her grown-up dresses for comfy sweatshirts, but it goes deeper. Samson slowly allows Dalva’s skittishness to soften enough that wide-eyed childlike wonder becomes the right way she begins to see the world. It’s a thrilling and poignant performance, just as easily moving towards a maturity in acknowledging what happened to her, while also retreating to the welcome and much-needed innocence that Dalva has long been robbed of.
Given the subject matter, you’d be forgiven for thinking “Love According to Dalva” would be a difficult watch. And it is, to some extent, with many scenes that run along particularly unsavory territory – especially when it comes to how Dalva interacts with the men around her. But the film also finds room for humor and laughter, for pathos and catharsis. Even as we follow this tightly wound girl who fears she will ever let her guard down, Nicot encourages us to look at her not with pity but with grace. It’s an astonishing feat of filmmaking, mostly because of the way it eschews facile moralistic or didactic approaches to tell Dalva’s story. Instead, it does what cinema is so apt to do, which is to allow us to inhabit another’s consciousness by seeing the world through their eyes, their pain, and even their trauma.