Early on in writer-actor-director Valérie Donzelli's Declaration of War, written in semi-autobiographical collaboration with her co-star Jérémie Elkaïm, a young man and woman (Romeo and Juliette) have a chance meeting at a noisy nightclub. After exchanging names, the woman states with some amusement, "so we're doomed to a terrible fate." Her tossed off prediction, it turns out, is both true and false.
The scene is a flashback directly following an establishing moment with Juliette standing over their son, Adam, as he's undergoing an MRI scan. His ailment, a brain tumor, is the prolonged concern of the film, which somehow is able to sustain an optimistic energy throughout, even with the plot centering on a parent's worst nightmare.
All credit for this result rests with the writing and performances; the entire film is grounded by the beautifully observed adult relationship that lies at the center of the film. Romeo and Juliette's strengths, weaknesses and overall growth in the face of the circumstances they face as parents are all made available to the viewer. Their love feels authentic and, even when the filmmakers take risks that don't entirely pay off; the awkward musical duet that plays out shortly after they find out about Adam's illness, for instance, watching the couple interact onscreen is a captivating and joyful experience. Strange as it sounds, I'd argue that the film is essentially a romance, albeit one that folds childhood cancer into the mix. Highly recommended.
Declaration of War will screen for the public at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 10th at 8:30p.m.
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