The IFI French Film Festival
Thursday, 17th November 2011
Declaration of War
(La Guerre est déclarée)
Thursday at the French Film Festival saw a repeat screening of the opening night film The Bird followed by Declaration of War, France’s submission for next year’s Oscars®. A largely autobiographical film based on the real-life events of its two central actors and screenplay writers, Valérie Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm, Declaration of War is a brave piece of filmmaking that deals with a young couple Romeo (Elkaïm) and Juliette (Donzelli) whose life is turned inside out when their two-year-old baby boy, Adam, is diagnosed with a brain tumour.
What marks the film out is its honesty, humour and charm and its positive approach that focuses on how its central protagonists deal with a situation that despite threatening to tear their world apart brings them together infusing them with a strength under fire when it matters most, which makes for a heartfelt and emotionally life–affirming tale.
Donzelli herself takes on the role of director following on from her time behind the camera directing The Queen of Hearts, her likeable 2009 rom-com parody. With Declaration of War Donzelli plays with the line between drama and comedy achieving a fine balance between variant tones and yet still manages to produce a deeply touching and charming film.
Declaration of War announces itself in a nifty opening sequence as Juliette meets Romeo at a party and they set off on their romance with an impressively edited tracking shot through the streets of Paris.
Their romance is suddenly interrupted by an addition to the family of a mewling infant. As Adam turns 2, the pair begin to worry after noticing that his head tilts to one side, and he’s not walking, so they bring him to a pediatrician, Doctor Prat, (a cracker of a cameo from Béatrice de Staël), who recommends tests, which reveal the nightmarish scenario of Adam’s illness.
From here the film tracks the couples struggle with their fate – including their battle with a medical system expressed in anesthetic shots of long mazes of hospital corridors they must pass through – and how they themselves cope helped throughout by the support of their family and friends.
Brimming with a terrific energy, an honest sense of humour, heartfelt sentiment and charm, Declaration of War bounds along infused with the spirit of New Wave, refusing ever to sink into melodrama, and, ultimately, despite its tragic circumstances, steadfastly proclaims itself as an affirming tale of love.
Declaration of War screens again on Sunday, 18th November at 18.45