Lust for life – Declaration of War review

Declaration of War – Starring Valérie Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm. Directed by Valérie Donzelli. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

Valérie Donzelli’s Declaration of War should come with a warning: May incite depression. This French story of a young couple’s journey as their son battles a brain tumour is not your run of the mill My Sister’s Keeper-style weepy however. At once heartbreaking, joyous and frustrating, this realistic depiction of a family struggling to survive deeply resonates and lingers.

Roméo Benaïm (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Juliette’s (Donzelli) tale is inspired by true life events, with Elkaïm and Donzelli sharing screenplay credits and the latter directing. The two meet at a party and fall, much like their namesakes, deeply in love. When they bring a son, Adam, into their lives, all seems perfect, until it becomes undeniable that at 18 months, Adam is not developing normally. The cause is determined to be a brain tumour, an announcement that not only sends Roméo and Juliette’s world into chaos, but reverberates within their circle of family and friends also.

One would expect what follows to be a sombre drama, yet Donzelli instead chooses light, humour, and pop songs. Her remarkably fresh approach to the well-tread story of the potential loss of a child makes the film brave, bold, and certainly memorable. The inclusion of an unexpected duet between Roméo and Juliette as one races to the other’s side is at first hilarious and out of place but on second thought becomes a darling quirk which matches the characters perfectly.

Both Elkaïm and Donzelli deliver strong, realistic performances, which often startle the audience with their loaded emotion. César Desseix, who plays 18-month-old Adam, might not be acting so much as he is just being a little boy, yet a scene of him sitting on a trolley being wheeled into surgery undeniably touches a nerve thanks solely to his facial expression.

Beyond the immediate family of Roméo, Juliette, and Adam are their extended relations and friends, whose reactions to and struggles with Adam’s situation are often not explored in movies of this nature. This is such an essential addition to this story, reminding us that these challenges are not faced alone, and a grandmother’s heartbreak at her grandson’s condition is just as emotionally charged as a mother or father’s.

Declaration of War succeeds in taking its audience on an emotionally charged ride, often forcing them to stop and question how their actions would differ from Roméo and Juliette’s were they faced with such a hurdle in life.

4/5

Declaration of War is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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