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Declaration of war

Declaration of War

Wednesday at 9.15pm at Liberty Theatre

‘Declaration of War’ is the film’s title, but given the physical distance covered during the course of the action a more apt metaphor and one actually used in the film itself is a marathon run.

Directed by Valerie Donzelli, it is based on her and her ex-boyfriend Jérémie Elkaïm’s ordeal with their son, Gabriel.

Elkaïm co-wrote the film; Gabriel plays the son Adam, at an older age.

It opens with a shot of a young boy going for an MRI. As he begins the procedure his mother reflects on the past.

A young couple, fatefully named Romeo and Juliet, meet at a party, and it’s love at first sight. Following a high-speed summer romance, comprising cycling in the park, enjoying amusement park rides and sharing literary interests, Adam is born. But instead of a happily gurgling baby, they bring home a screaming monster. Love, patience and family support help them adjust, and the baby grows.

And then other worrying signs develop: unexplained vomiting, delayed walking, coughing fits and facial asymmetry. Thus begins the marathon effort to defeat the monstrous threat to their child’s life a huge brain tumour. The struggle to defeat the cancer is juxtaposed with the struggle to build a normal life: create a home, develop a career and maintain a network of supporting friends and family. The film also explores the ways in which the couple and their families cope with the challenges, the frictions that arise and the support that is offered. In the end everything is sacrificed for the health of their child.

Yet this is not a depressing film. Despite the darkness of despair, there are episodes of tenderness and beauty and touches of humour that leaven the heaviness weighing on the young couple who are to be admired for their tenacity and faith.

The film itself seems to lack an overall coherence. First there are the mixed metaphors. Despite the film’s title, there’s little battle imagery but frequent references to distance travelled train journeys to Marseilles and back for the initial diagnosis, mad dashes through a labyrinth of soulless hospital corridors, jogs through leafy parks, motorcycle rides through busy streets, the to-ing and fro-ing of hospital visits. The music varies in style from scene to scene, from Vivaldi, ballad and classical guitar to hard rock. While each piece might suit a particular scene, there isn’t a consistent theme or style running through the film which creates a somewhat jarring effect. There’s also narration over some montages, but again used inconsistently, and occasionally unnecessarily.

The acting is generally solid, with Cesar Desseix portraying the infant Adam, perfect in the role as wide-eyed innocent.

Sad, but not grim, this film will strike a chord with any parent who has struggled with a child’s ill health, and though Romeo and Juliet might be star-crossed lovers, their child, with parents like these, is anything but ill-fated.

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Published March 14, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 14, 2012 at 8:47 am)

Declaration of war

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