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Thursday, 01 March 2012 13:02

Honesty and insight rule 'Declaration of War'

Honesty and insight rule 'Declaration of War' ifcfilms.com
Written by Diane Carson
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French films specialize in effectively and efficiently dramatizing personal relationships. Declaration of War continues this careful examination of the intensely interpersonal as a young, unmarried couple must deal with doctors' diagnosis of their 18 month old son's brain tumor. Valérie Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm co-wrote and star in this highly autobiographical story that she directed.

In only her second feature film, director Donzelli avoids sentimentality, presenting this traumatic situation with honest directness. Shifting to an extended flashback after a brief introduction, events begin with the aptly named Romeo and Juliette falling in love at a nightclub, establishing a close bond, and welcoming their baby Adam. Almost immediately they suspect something's amiss with him and embark on meetings with doctors, have multiple diagnostic tests, confirm the brain tumor and make decisions about treatment.

Periodic voiceover narration by three different voices helps to define this ordeal as a scientific procedural, keeping it even handed reporting instead of melodramatic indulgence. The events need no appeal to establish them as deeply moving.

Radio news announces the beginning of our Iraq war, but the war waged here takes aim at the complex and multifaceted challenges of the medical situation. Romeo and Juliette's lives change as do those of family and friends become who share the ups and downs. Exhaustion sets in with the repetition of hospital visits and procedures. The couple escapes to the seashore, a carnival, a party—all crucial breaks to maintain their own mental and physical health. Amazingly, humor relieves the overarching seriousness in several instances.

Technically Donzelli impressionistically translates the emotional states to visual images. The eclectic music expresses the kaleidoscope of moods. Declaration of War is a painfully honest and uplifting story that helps any empathetic individual understand the roller coaster of just about anyone greeted with unwelcome, sad news. Few will confront a situation as upsetting as this one, though some have lived through it and become stronger, better people. I feel that way having seen Declaration of War. In French with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.

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