Declaration of War: France Entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

An original tragic-comedy, likely to divide audiences the way that it divides critics, “Declaration of War” is France’s entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar.  The film served as the opening night film of the series Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and now IFC is releasing it in the U.S.

 

 

 

A personal, semi-experimental film, “Declaration of War” draws on the real-life experiences of director and co-star Valerie Donzelli and her co-star and co-writer Jeremie Elkaïm and what they went through when their own son fell ill.

 

 

 

Defying easy categorization in terms of genre, mood, tone, and style, the tale centers on a young and appealing married couple, Romeo (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Juliette (Valérie Donzelli), who are forced to face the ultimate test when they discover that their newborn child is very ill and may die.

 

 

 

Gathering their friends and family at the hospital, they confront the ordeal—and their personal anxiety–as a form of warfare, with music and dance.

 

 

 

Donzelli infuses the story with energy, utilizing various cinematic techniques, such as voice-overs by different narrators.

 

 

 

In the very first scene, we learn that the child has survived, so the suspense is not about the outcome of the illness, but about the journey that the duo goes through, the ups and down, the humor and tragedy, the pain and joy, the grief and relief.

 

 

 

In the process, the couple learns a lot about their mutual love and life together.  They surprise even themselves with their unusually strong ability to fight not only for the life of their child but also for the welfare of each other.

 

 

 

Problem is, once the thematic and stylistic novelty is disclosed, the movie gets repetitious, and occasionally the couple’s heroic battle feels fake and too forced.

 

 

 

I realize that the filmmakers’ goal is to declare their belief in the vitality for and sacredness of life. But to me, “Declaration of War” is a movie of some good moments, some deeply touching, other funny and heartbreaking.