Declaration of War

Declaration of War

Original title or aka: La guerre est déclarée

Director: Valérie Donzelli
Starring: Valérie Donzelli, Jérémie Elkaïm, César Desseix, Gabriel Elkaïm and Brigitte Sy
Distributor: Palace Films
Runtime: 100 mins. Reviewed in Jun 2012
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Rating notes: Coarse language

No, not a film about military action nor politics. In fact, there is more love than war in this French drama about a couple and the illness of their baby son. It is based on the experiences of the leading actors with Valerie Donzelli directing.

They don’t believe it, but when they meet and their eyes attract across a crowded room (well, night-club), they discover that their names are Romeo and Juliette. Their romance and love is quickly sketched in. Then their baby boy, Adam, is born. All seems idyllic.

Even when Adam cries incessantly and Romeo is finding this hard to take, Juliette is still hopeful that all will be well. However, they take the child to a consultancy and, step by step, examining the boy’s condition and lopsided facial features, they discover that he has a brain tumour.

Most of the film is about the love, care and exasperation as the couple try to do what is best for the boy, seeking out surgeons, hospital care, finding that their son is treated well but that they are not always kept in the loop. Juliette is highly emotional and breaks into recovery rooms. Romeo is more guarded, trying to respect protocols. This actually takes its toll on the couple, pushing them apart even as they try the best for their son.

Anyone who has experienced good hospital care and information about cases will watch the film with appreciation. Anyone who has been frustrated at brusque treatment by doctors, nurses or receptionists and lack of personalized communication will find that they watch the film with some renewed frustration.

Donzelli and Elkaim are more than credible, reenacting some of their own experiences. Their son, Gabriel Elkaim, is Adam at eight years old. They are surrounded by a gallery of characters, especially the couple’s parents and various doctors and hospital staff. At times there is some Gallic sentiment which some audiences will find too sweet (though it tempers our concern about Adam and how he is faring). At times, the film touches the rawness of the experience – as when the couple stay in a temporary hospital room and give each other strength in saying out loud what they actually fear.

The film is an emotional exploration of some very basic and deep human experiences and values. French nominee for the 2011 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It won a SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communication) Commendation at the 2012 Hong Kong Film Festival.

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