'Declaration of War' chronicles parents' fierce love
A review of "Declaration of War," a moving chronicle of parents battling a child's grim medical diagnosis.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Declaration of War' with Valérie Donzelli, Jérémie Elkaïm, César Desseix, Brigitte Sy, Béatrice de Staël, Frédéric Pierrot, Gabriel Elkaïm. Directed by Donzelli, from a screenplay by Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm. 100 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French with English subtitles. Varsity.
"Declaration of War" movingly chronicles a unique and terrible fight: that of two parents against the cancer that has invaded the brain of their 18-month-old son. It's made all the more affecting by the truth behind it: Director Valérie Donzelli, who also co-wrote and stars in the film, lived that battle, with co-writer/co-star Jérémie Elkaïm, when their real-life son became terribly ill. From that war came art — and young Gabriel Elkaïm, who appears in the film in its final moments looking like any disinterested grade schooler. (I reveal this not to spoil the ending, but to assure those who fear that this movie might be unbearably tragic.)
Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm play Juliette and Roméo, a pair of well-named young lovers (she cringes when she first hears his name) in contemporary Paris. They dance at parties, kiss in the sunshine, and before too long produce an exquisite baby boy named Adam. But a shadow soon falls on this sunny life — seen heartbreakingly in the face of a doctor (Béatrice de Staël) who knows something's terribly wrong with this baby, and that these young parents need to summon the strength for the fight of their lives. In a beautiful, wordless sequence set to Vivaldi, we see their families and friends notified, and soon the cold white light of hospital hallways becomes a character in the film. Roméo and Juliette find a new, strange existence: The center of their world is a room behind a door with "Adam" taped on it, which only those made anonymous by hospital gowns and masks may enter.
"Declaration of War" has a playful side, reflecting the need of its characters to sometimes, somehow, manage to smile: We hear Roméo and Juliette singing to each other, and watch as they magically conjure up a modest New Year's celebration and play in the snow. It's a long-fought war, and a grim one; you watch aching for them and hoping all will be right. "Why did this happen to us?" agonizes Roméo, late in the film. Juliette calmly replies, "Because we can overcome it."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org