Declaration of War enthuses Semaine audiences
by Fabien Lemercier
13/05/2011 - Opening the out-of-competition section at the 50th International Critics’ Week yesterday evening, Valérie Donzelli’s eagerly-awaited Declaration of War [trailer] has lived up to – and even exceeded – critics’ expectations.
In taking on a highly personal (a true story experienced by the director-actress and her actor companion Jérémie Elkaim) and universal subject (a baby’s serious illness), the film brilliantly avoids the trap of excess emotion through its highly unique and dynamic style, containing emotions in a pulsating detachment, which has enthused audiences.
A rock party and an exchange of intense glances lead to love at first sight for Juliette (Donzelli) and Roméo (Elkaim). "Is this a joke?," she asks. "We are doomed to a terrible fate," he jests before kissing her impulsively, after which Juliette’s partner slaps her. The two lovers run away, get to know each other and fall wildly in love. Their love affair is all the more romantic thanks to a leisurely Parisian setting.
Then baby Adam arrives on scene and, despite the run-of-the-mill problems faced by young parents, "Roméo and Juliette are two happy lovebirds. Life welcomes them with open arms," says the literary voice-off punctuating the film. But drama is just around the corner.
At 18 months, Adam still can’t walk, vomits a lot and his head is slightly tilting. The worried couple consult a paediatrician who notices a facial asymmetry – and has Roméo and Juliette immediately consulting a neurologist. They make an appointment for the following day and as they worry during the night, war is declared.
Adam has a brain tumour and needs an operation, which heralds a crushing blow, distress and family drama. The next day the surgeon explains that the tumour has touched the nerves and is constricting the brainstem – Adam will require a nine-hour operation, with no side effects however. Yet fear and doubt reign, as time stands still.
The operation is a success, but the tumour is malignant so Adam will need chemotherapy treatment until the age of five, then radiotherapy. The couple have to be tough, organise their life around a new hospital, survive psychologically, discover medical protocols and sterile rooms, relax to forget, continue to love life and love one another despite the weariness and despair (the tumour turns out to be an aggressive variant with a 10% chance of survival). All they can do is live and hope.
Bold scenes, dazzling musicals, strong humour despite the gravity of the subject, incredible energy and perfect acting make Declaration of War an ideal alchemy between strong emotions and stylistic lightness, a combination reminiscent of Truffaut but revisited in a starkly modern form.
Definitely worthy the attention it has attracted on the Croisette, Donzelli’s film – sold internationally by Wild Bunch – will no doubt bring Roméo, Juliette and Adam to cinemas worldwide.
(Translated from French)