Movie Review - Declaration of War

This French film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. It began playing in Europe that fall. It was nominated for six César Awards, including Best Film. It lost to The Artist. It was France's Official Submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. It never made it to the shortlist, and, despite being highly regarded, I can see why it ultimately was shut out. It's an honest film, very honest, just not incredibly impactful.

Valérie Donzelli plays Juliette and Jérémie Elkaïm plays Romeo. Beyond their names, we don't really learn too much about these two. We get glimpses into their jobs but no clue as to their interests or who they are as people outside the situation that consumes the movie. Romeo and Juliette meet and within two minutes of screen time, they have a baby named Adam. Eventually, Adam is diagnosed with cancer and Romeo and Juliette have to deal with it.

The Emmy-winning PBS documentary A Lion in the House (2006) is a far better portrayal of parents dealing with children's cancer. Considering the heavy subject matter, there really isn't any drama here. Donzelli and Elkaïm wrote the screenplay for this film and the events depicted are autobiographical. The two of them have a child in real-life who was diagnosed with cancer, and while their scenes are truthful and can be cathartic in many ways, there is no drama. There is no conflict and thus no character development. It's just a lot of waiting. They wait to go to the doctor. They wait for the surgery. They wait for the results. They wait and they wait.

Donzelli directs this story and I wasn't all that impressed. I didn't like the voice-overs. I didn't like the various montages. One in particular was set to classical music and featured every person in Romeo and Juliette's family and all their friends learning about Adam's cancer and instead of moving things along, it felt like it dragged the movie down, way down. There is a moment when Romeo and Juliette started singing as if they were suddenly in a musical. It felt like an awkward tonal shift. A scene where Romeo and Juliette speak their fears about the pending surgery was probably meant to be funny but was homophobic and racist, and too much of an isolated moment to feel integral.

Plus, I didn't understand the title. There is a scene early in the movie where Romeo and Juliette hear on the radio about the U.S. war in Iraq beginning. I get then that this movie takes place in 2003, which was the start of the U.S. war in Iraq, but why name the movie that? Are the filmmakers trying to make a political statement here or equate war to childhood cancer? If they are, they failed.

One Star out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.


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