The Movie Waffler New to VOD - LOVE ACCORDING TO DALVA | The Movie Waffler


A young girl struggles to adapt after being taken from her abusive father.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Emmanuelle Nicot

Starring: Zelda Samson, Alexis Manenti, Fanta Guirassi, Sandrine Blancke, Jean-Louis Coulloc'h

Love According to Dalva poster

Emmanuelle Nicot's directorial debut Love According to Dalva shares a similar protagonist and setting with Nora Fingscheidt's System Crasher, that of a troubled young girl in a child protection shelter. But where the German drama presented us with a young girl who needed to grow up and stop acting like a toddler, this French movie does the opposite. The titular Dalva (Zelda Samson) is a 12-year-old who believes she's an adult and needs to be reprogrammed to return to childhood.

Love According to Dalva review

We find Dalva kicking and screaming as the police extract her from her home as they arrest her father, Jacques (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h). Dalva has spent the last few years being gaslit by Jacques to believe that his ongoing sexual abuse is an expression of love. The two have moved from one location to another to evade the girl's mother (Sandrine Blancke) and the suspicious eyes of neighbours, but the authorities have finally caught up with them. Dalva is taken under the care of Child Protection Services and placed in a temporary shelter while her father is locked away as he awaits his trial.

Dalva resents being taken away from her father, whom she clearly loves, and refuses to listen to the adults who try to tell her she was Jacques' victim, not his lover. She dresses in dowdy outfits clearly picked by her father, and initially refuses to shed them for clothes more befitting a 12-year-old. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Jack Nicholson's character's dehumanisation is represented by the gradual shedding of the clothes he arrived at the psychiatric institution wearing, ending with him lobotomised and fully clad in the institution's patient's uniform. Nicot does something similar here, but in reverse. The more Dalva begins to realise what her father really did to her and embraces childhood, the more childlike her appearance becomes. The movie opens with her looking like a Victorian twentysomething and ends with her in a loose tracksuit, hoody and pixie cut.

Love According to Dalva review

A piece of clothing offered as a gesture sets Dalva on her path to recovery when her surly roommate Samia (Fanta Guirassi) loans her a jacket. Initially abrasive, Samia becomes Dalva's greatest ally. While Dalva is bullied and harassed by cruel classmates in the local school, she finds kinship among her fellow residents at the shelter, where nobody is in a position to be judgemental. "We're all scum here," is how Samia puts it.

Dalva also bonds with Jayden (Alexis Manenti), her supervisor at the shelter, though she mistakes his professional affection for something more, unable to separate sex from love. This subplot is a little too predictable and you might doubt the reality of a male adult being put in charge of a young girl in Dalva's situation, but maybe things are different in France.

Love According to Dalva review

In the lead role, first-timer Samson is a revelation. It's an unshowy part, and even the histrionics are underplayed, but it's a challenging one as Samson is required to play one character pretending to be another for much of the film. DoP Caroline Guimbal's camera is often right in Samson's face, capturing every minute nuance of confusion and frustration plaguing the child. As Dalva opens up, so too does the frame, the early close-ups substituted for wide shots of Dalva surrounded by her new friends. Nicot uses Samson the way Hitchcock used his actors, often requiring her young star to perform small but telling physical gestures rather than recite an abundance of dialogue. The film's most startling moment sees Nicot place the camera behind Samson as Dalva visits her father in prison. Clad in a pink, girly jacket, Dalva drops the garment to reveal a wildly inappropriate backless dress once her father enters the room. It's a brilliant piece of visual storytelling that immediately hammers home Dalva's true feelings at that point.

It's hard to think of more troubling subject matter than Dalva's backstory, but Nicot has created a movie that is thoroughly charming. Watching Dalva open up to kids her own age and embrace the simple delights of childhood is quite affecting. While we're left in no doubt that Dalva has a long road ahead of her, by the film's end we've come to believe she can make it into her teen years, one new hoody at a time.

Love According to Dalva
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews