Wednesday, 23 May 2012
FILM REVIEW: DECLARATION OF WAR
Who'd be a parent? Seriously, it's just one thing after another: the birth, raising, feeding and educating the kids, and hoping to get them to adulthood relatively intact and unscarred. And it doesn't even stop once they turn 18, leave home and begin lives of their own.
Parenthood wasn't the first thing on the minds of young lovers, Romeo (Jeremie Elkaim) and Juliette (Valerie Donzelli), when they locked eyes across a crowded room. But after a whirlwind romance, the pair are living together in Paris apartment and not before long, they are welcoming their first child into the world.
Baby Adam seems like a perfectly normal, happy infant at first. Sure he cries a lot, and he throws up after feeding, but don't all babies? But it's when the young parents notice their baby boy has a slight swelling of the face that a darker reason for his moods and vomiting is uncovered: a brain tumour.
Based on the actual experiences of one-time couple, Donzelli and Elkaim (both wrote the screenplay; she directs), Declaration of War avoids the pitfalls of the 'sick child' movie, which are almost always maudlin and manipulative, by speaking with a uniquely personal voice.
That voice may result in some odd stylistic choices -- one musical number between the pair surprises with its randomness -- but I'd much prefer this to the usual hair-pulling, chest-beating, over-emoting we have to endure in these sorts of films (although there is a little of that when the news is first delivered).
Thankfully, there's also a lot of humour in Declaration Of War, be it the couples' parents (Juliette's are a bourgeois couple who constantly bicker like long-time marrieds do; Romeo's mother has a female partner, and the pair are simultaneously arty and pragmatic), the people they encounter in the medical fraternity, or the couple themselves. A wonderful scene has the two joking about how they'll continue to love their son whilst bestowing upon him a litany of afflictions.
And who are we to suggest how someone should react to bad news? Grief is as individual and personal an emotional response as happiness or love. Not that Declaration Of War is a downer. While I'm loathe to use terms such as "life affirming" and "uplifting" (descriptors which immediately turn me off), the film is a positive viewing experience.
It is emotional, sure, but that emotion is neither forced nor the overriding point of the film. If anything, Declaration Of War is a survival tale and a celebration of life; a film to be embraced not avoided.