FRIDAY, MARCH 2:
Declaration of War ***
Stars: Valerie Donzelli (Juliette), Jeremie Elkaim (Romeo).
Director: Valerie Donzelli
Country: France, 2011
Running time: 95 minutes
Declaration of War is a tender, moving portrait of two young lovers and their fight to save their son who has been diagnosed with cancer.
This is not your typical Hollywood gloss and uber-emotion. Declaration of War is understated, subtle and yet direct. Typically French, some might say.
Before you know it, you are rooting for the two main characters and the cute little boy who has only a 10 per cent chance of survival.
Declaration of War is as much of a love story as it is a tale of a parent’s love for their child. Romeo (Jeremie Elkaim) and Juliette (Valerie Donzelli) first meet at a party where their eyes cross and it is love at first sight.
Finding out their Shakespearean names, Romeo jokes: “So we’re doomed to a terrible fate?”. And sadly, fate does thwart these young lovers from their path of happiness.
We watch them fall in love on the streets of Paris in a series of whimsical scenes, and soon, Juliette is having a baby. The couple move into their own apartment, helped out financially by relatives, and life is sweet.
But then they start noticing problems with their son, Adam. He starts vomiting, has difficulties walking and the right side of his face suffers paralysis.
A growing nightmare starts to creep into their lives. Adam is diagnosed with a brain tumour and we watch Romeo and Juliette’s happy, carefree relationship deteriorate into one of anxiety and torture.
We watch their emotional journey from feelings of anger, fear and helplessness, to taking control and charge of the situation.
As these two young parents declare war on their son’s cancer, an inner strength emerges. They sacrifice everything — their home, jobs and friends, just to be with their son and to fight with him in the trenches of the hospital.
Ultimately though, solitude takes over and has its own repercussions for the star-crossed lovers. In the end though, this is a happy, life-affirming film and one to make you ponder the nature of love and loyalty.
Elkaim and Donzelli are highly engaging to watch as sweet Romeo and Juliette and endear us to them with their naturalistic acting.
I did find their cigarette chain-smoking a little ironic,but this is a rewarding film to watch.
Declaration of War was chosen as France’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards.
It is based on the real-life experiences of Donzelli and Elkaim, a former couple whose own son underwent a life-threatening illness. Cinema verite, if you like.