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CANNES 2022 Critics’ Week

Emmanuelle Nicot • Director of Love According to Dalva

“I wanted to tell the story of the aftermath, where the traumas lodge”

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- CANNES 2022: The Belgian filmmaker talked about her surprisingly luminous portrait of a little 12-year-old girl who will have to take back control of her life story

Emmanuelle Nicot • Director of Love According to Dalva

We sat down with Belgian filmmaker Emmanuelle Nicot, selected for Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival with her first feature film, Love According to Dalva [+see also:
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, a surprisingly luminous portrait of a 12-year-old girl separated from her incestuous father, who has to take the story of her life into her own hands in order to reconcile herself with her childhood and her femininity.

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Cineuropa: What are the origins of the project?
Emmanuelle Nicot:  I had already explored the theme of control a lot in my short films. Then I immersed myself in an emergency reception centre, with young people placed in care because of abuse. They had been removed from their families, yet they continued to stand together with their parents in the face of justice. Denial was very powerful.

I also heard the story of the father of one of my friends, who was an educator. One day, he found himself faced with a six-year-old girl, highly sexualised, who lived alone with her father.

Love According to Dalva was born out of all of this. I wondered who this little girl would be at the age of 12, when biological puberty arrives, the age of the first strong emotions.

The film starts after the crisis, after the incest. Dalva will have to write her own story, so as to no longer be the character of the one written by her father.
Yes, exactly, it’s a coming-of-age story in reverse, she has to get out of the imposed narrative. She’s been living alone with her father for years, she’s out of school, has no outside reference. She has no one else to love but her father, and is loved by no one else. For Dalva, tenderness, sexuality, paternal love, it’s all mixed up. She will have to be distanced from her father in order to get out of denial, to reappropriate her story, get out of the status of object of desire to become the subject of her own desire.

Dalva is a teenager who lives as a woman. On the outside as well as on the inside. For her, her place is with the adults. There is a distortion when she is in the shelter. She doesn't see herself as a child of her age. This discrepancy interested me enormously. It is also a discrepancy that we find in Dogtooth [+see also:
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by Yorgos Lanthimos, even if the subject is completely different. It's also a story of control and confinement, of children who have built themselves on what their parents have told them. They discover that in fact, the world is not like that.

Control is someone who gives us their vision of the world, which we integrate as if it were our own. When you come out of this hold, you realise that it wasn't your vision. There is something very cinematic about it. This femininity, visually, we can deconstruct. We can materialise the release of this control.

Can we talk about the relationship with the costume, as a way of performing a role, and as protection?

When Dalva comes into the shelter, she is dressed like a lady, a classy lady. It was important to me that Dalva not be Lolita. There is no vulgarity, no eroticism, it was there from the writing, I worked a lot with the costume designer. At first, Dalva thinks that her costume is part of her, that it is part of her identity. When she is asked to undress at the beginning of the film, it is a terrible violence for her.

I wanted to tell the story of incest in contrast, the immersed tip of the iceberg, the way her father transformed her, and how afterwards, they want to transform her again in the home. I wanted to talk about incest, but not show it. I wanted to tell the story of the aftermath, where the traumas lodge.

The visit to her father in prison is a wake-up call. The confrontation is violent, but it finally frees her from her father's narrative. Only his word, his confession, can enable her to consider what to do next. That's when she starts to look around her, and not only behind her.

It's strange, because it took me a long time to write the film, and for a long time the encounter with the father didn't exist. In my short films, the executioner was never represented frontally. But I was stuck in my story. Dalva's denial is so powerful that only the father's confession could get her out of this hold, to die and be reborn.

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(Translated from French)

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