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REVIEW: "Declaration Of War" Is An Explosion Of Life Reaffirmation

Sara Itkis |
January 29, 2012 | 1:55 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The Big C:” a matter not usually taken lightly. Cancer is increasingly becoming the subject of films and television shows. Not only that, but it is starting to become the subject of lighter genres such as comedy.

Going into “Declaration of War,” you probably know that it is about a couple very much in love whose child is diagnosed with cancer. You know that it will be a romance and an inspirational drama. What you don't know is that you will be laughing more than crying. Although child cancer is one of those things that makes you question your faith in everything, this film will do just the opposite. In fact, Declaration of War is optimistic to a fault. The subject matter built up much tension and intense emotions which never find an outlet in the light manner with which the parents tackle the challenge. It was a beautifully made film, highly stylized, and with an eclectic soundtrack, but it may leave viewers feeling unsatisfied in the end. 

The film begins with the meeting between the two characters, Romeo (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Juliet (Valérie Donzelli). Their names suggest the archetypal nature of their story; in a way, Romeo and Juliet are the world’s first truly romantic couple. Thus, it is well-fitting that their son is named Adam, history’s first man. Donzelli and Elkaïm were breathtaking in the title roles, creating such a romantic connection that one believes they could withstand the trials that they undergo. As Juliet, Donzelli is a strong woman who lives by her emotions and always has the perfect words to say. Elkaïm plays Romeo with an irresistible sense of humor and rebellion and an intense mix of passion and vulnerability. Their family, including Juliet’s fussy parents and Elkaïm’s mother and her lesbian lover, provided much comedic relief. 

The first half of the movie is fantastic, filled with beautiful romance and laughter, doubt and rage. It feels intimate and sincere. However, as the plot develops and Adam’s disease worsens, it feels as though the film loses touch with its audience. Having built up expectations for impending emotional breakdowns, arguments, and existential anger and fear, the unwavering confidence with which the couple battle Adam’s cancer incites scepticism and frustration. Not even the closest soul-mates could withstand such adversity with only a few momentary setbacks! The presence of several overly corny romantic exchanges and even a musical duet only add to this irritation. To make matters worse, the very ending of the film feels very ambiguous compared with the rest of its confidence, leaving viewers with little closure.

Saving “Declaration of War” from its overly sentimental story-line and fluffy script is the soundtrack and editing. The use of everything between powerful classical music to French electronica was incredibly effective in conveying the intense emotions that come with a plot like that of “Declaration of War.” The highly stylistic editing and cinematography in some of the sequences combined with the strong score added some great edge and provided for much of the catharsis that the other aspects of the film failed to achieve. 

The very interesting thing about “Declaration of War” is that it is not only based on a true story, but a story that happened to the main actors, Jérémie Elkaïm and Valérie Donzelli. The two of them put the film together themselves, with Valérie directing and both of them writing the script. Ultimately, the film is their intimate, deeply personal retelling of the experience that tested their ability to always look at the positive, to remember to always truly live, and to appreciate the beauty in everything that life may bring. 

Reach reporter Sara Itkis here.



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