Love According to Dalva (2022)

Love According to Dalva, directed by Emmanuelle Nicot, features some extraordinarily intense performances in a paedophilia drama where the victim refuses to accept she is a child who has been abused.

Baby Doll

by Alexa Dalby

Love According to Dalva

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Child abuse is a shocking subject, but this film shows it in a matter-of-fact yet sensitive way. It opens with the sound – no vision – of a couple being violently separated by police. The “Jacques” that the girl we see screaming for is, we learn later, her father. Their sexual relationship has been reported by a neighbour. I wonder how this would be dealt with in this country.

We follow Dalva, a doll-like, precociously pretty 12-year-old girl, as she is taken into care. She is sexualised to behave like the adult she thinks she is, dress in unsuitable, too-old-for-her sexy clothes and to make up her face like a Barbie doll, with an up-do hairstyle like a mini Brigitte Bardot. She has been groomed by her father to think she is a woman not a child.

At first Dalva refuses to accept what has happened to her. She believes her relationship with her father was consensual and voluntary. When she is allowed by a judge to see her father (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h), now in prison, after all her intense feelings about him, it’s a surprise to see what a broken husk of a middle-aged man he really is.

In the children’s home where she’s been placed, Dalva is seen as a strange, exotic creature who doesn’t fit in. At school, there’s no anonymity, everyone locally seems to know about her sensational story.

Gradually, with the help of Jayden (Alexis Manenti), her male social worker, therapists and her streetwise roommate Samia (scene-stealing Fanta Guirassy) she begins to understand. Samia is an interesting character and I would like to see more of her in a Tracy Beaker-type series. During the film, Dalva starts on a painful journey to find her own identity and recover her lost childhood.


Some of the child actors, including the central Zelda Samson herself, are non-professionals: director Emmanuelle Nicot has achieved exceptional performances from them. The film is a slow-burn, hard-hitting, eye-opening opportunity to consider usually hidden ways of looking at incest and paedophilia from the victim’s point of view.

Belgian film has certainly been dealing with so many difficult issues recently – transexuality in Girl and teen suicide in Close by Lukas Dhont and now child abuse in Nicot’s Dalva. What’s going on?

Love According to Dalva premiered at the Cannes Film Festival (Semaine de la Critique) and is released on 29 April 2023 in the UK.

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