The bold, hyper, often wondrous “Declaration of War” is a very personal project for director Valérie Donzelli and co-writer Jérémie Elkaïm—who also star—as a couple who find out their newborn boy is very ill. Their response is as much comic as tragic: how do we battle for the very life of our child in every possible way? In their autobiographical drama, Donzelli and Elkaïm go so far as to name their characters “Romeo” and “Juliette,” their son “Adam,” but insist that their fates are not fully written. How does this beautiful couple challenge ugly possibilities? In the press kit, Donzelli shrugs: ” They meet at a party, they fall in love at first sight, they can’t believe their names are Romeo and Juliette, and wonder about their tragic destiny together.” Among the elements that make the nouvelle vague-inflected “Declaration” both an eccentric drama and a moving one is the oddly optimistic selection of songs on the soundtrack and a visual style, shot with a Canon stills camera that is always darting and fleet. And the ending, combining music and a family by the sea, is a tumble into what will be: what will become of a family of three, tried, tested and true through a war against terrible things outside and inside themselves. “Declaration of War” was France’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. With César Desseix, Gabriel Elkaïm, Brigitte Sy, Elina Löwensohn, Michèle Moretti, Philippe Laudenbach, Baptiste Bouillon, Bastien Bouillon. 100m. (Ray Pride)
“Declaration of War” opens Friday at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.