DECLARATION OF WAR
Director: Valérie Donzelli
Screenwriter: Valérie Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm
Runtime: 100 mins.
Australian release date: 31 May 2012
The subject matter of this stylish, but overly melodramatic film, is considered (according to the critics at Cannes in 2011) to be ‘genuinely moving’, ‘breathtakingly vital’ and in one comment, ‘an extraordinary hymn to life’. Well, I beg to differ. The film’s title, Declaration Of War, for a start, is somewhat misleading - it would have delivered just as well called Declaration of Love. Based on real-life events, and starring the real-life young couple to whom the events happened, director and co-writer Valérie Donzelli (Juliette) and co-writer Jeremie Elkaïm (Roméo), the film re-enacts their story: they meet in a club, fall in love, get pregnant, give birth to a gorgeous baby and deal with the travails of raising their first child. We see these actions in a rapidly edited montage, which presumably reflects the speed with which they really happened. All is well until the little boy starts to develop some behavioural abnormalities.
To be honest the jig is up in the opening scene, for when the couple meet they make reference to the doomed relationship of the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s play - geddit! Roméo and Juliette chuck a giant melodramatic turn on screen when they learn some terrible news about their son’s health, as do the other members of their fractured family. However, the sentimental feelings are geared towards the couple themselves, who are of the ‘all about me’ generation, and seem to downplay the fact that the real sentimental issue is with their child’s gloomy diagnosis. Meanwhile, the little baby steals every scene by just looking so damn bewildered by all that is going on around him.
By this stage, I was wondering how much longer we’d have to suffer these dramatic outbursts when I was jolted back to reality watching a scene where Juliette and Roméo have a heart-to-heart discussion about how they need to keep each other’s spirits up. In a particularly candid moment, they imagine how things could get even worse if their child turned out to be ‘gay,’ ‘black’ or, heaven forbid, grow up ‘to vote right-wing,’ as a result of the side effects of the up-coming operation. It’s a moving, blackly humorous moment.
This is a tough story, but the film is marred by the overly dramatic soundtrack, the chronologically challenged editing and the melodramatic performances by just about everyone on screen. I felt sorry for Donzelli and Elkaïm, as it is their real-life story up there for the entire world to see but, as actors, they fail to make you feel much sympathy towards them or the dire situation in which they found themselves. One redeeming factor, however, is the knowledge that the French public health system seems to work terrifically well. Declaration of War was selected as France’s official submission for the 2012 Academy Awards. Maybe that’s why the members of the Academy didn’t vote for it - they may have felt ashamed by the fact that, in comparison, the US medical system leaves a lot to be desired!