Declaration of War (2011) Poster

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Intimate, affecting portrayal of a couple's struggle to survive
PaddyCMR22 November 2011
This film is the story of a couple whose only son (Adam) is diagnosed with cancer, but it's by no means a weepie, as from very early in the film, we learn that Adam pulls through. So, what does this leave us with? Well, perhaps more interestingly, the movie becomes more about Roméo (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Juliette's (Valérie Donzelli) struggle to stay together. With knowledge of Adam's safety in the bank, we can concentrate on the two main protagonists, and whether they will be able to survive as a unit.

The film is also scripted by the pair, and directed by Donzelli, and it must be said, they are a remarkable duo. Their on-screen characters are very likeably played, if a little saccharine sweet while they fall in love in the first twenty minutes. However, while some of the early musical interludes might jar a little, they don't feel entirely out of place with the scenario. Their relationship forms the beating heart of this movie though, and they play off each other beautifully, gradually winning the audience round, and permitting forgiveness for the conceit of their characters' names!

Bringing a rather sudden end to the romantic beginnings, new baby Adam arrives on the scene, and all is not rosy in the garden from very early on. Parents beware, the quarter of an hour that gradually builds up to Adam's diagnosis is as genuinely affecting a movie sequence as I can remember from any recent movie outing (and I'm only an uncle!)

And from there it becomes about coping, about managing, and about survival. As I said, the audience is blessed with the foreknowledge that the couple do not have, so we're in a privileged position, but as Roméo and Juliette soldier on, rising to every new challenge and facing up to every fresh heartbreaking piece of news, you are still right there with them. Their support networks too, play an important role in the movie, but really this is the story of Roméo and Juliette's struggle to survive.

If cinema is about escapism, then 'Declaration of War' will certainly transport you, placing you right in the middle of this young couple's lives as they battle with something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

I can't recommend it highly enough for lovers of French film, or possibly even just for parents who need a reminder of how lucky they are. It's bordering on stereotypical, picture-postcard French in the opening twenty minutes as the two central characters tombent amoureuses... but kind of suits the mood and is perhaps intentional. Two excellent central performances make it very watchable, but an excellent narrative device elevates this story from a traditional weepie into entirely more interesting territory. A real contender for the Oscar next March.
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Death to death!
guy-bellinger29 December 2011
This is an incredible movie. Just imagine: two young people are attracted to each other, live together happily until they realize the child they have had happens to suffer from a particularly malignant brain tumor, a fact abruptly plunging them into a terrible four-year ordeal, leading them to breakup because of the hardships inherent in the situation, only to..., some time later,... make a film out of this excruciating experience! And not only do they write the story and direct (at least the woman) but they play their own characters as well, carefully replicating a reality that almost destroyed them. How courageous, how daring! A move close to sheer madness... How on earth can one go through the pangs of such an unbearable ordeal... TWICE? And how the devil can one make such a luminous film, able to deal with such a risky subject without falling into the many traps it contains? And how can one manage to give people hope and confidence by talking about death during most of a film? Well, miracles exist, since Valérie Donzelli (director, writer, main actress, makeup artist and hair stylist!) and her former life companion Jérémie Elkaïm (co-writer, main actor) have done just that with "La guerre est déclarée", giving an example that such a feat is within the realms of possibility.

They manage this achievement by immediately finding the right tone and by never falling out of tune afterward. A winning principle announced in the title "Declaration of War", for both the characters are seen fighting instead of crying and moaning. This does not mean they never express their suffering - how could they help it? - but it is the dynamics of their struggle that is put forward, not the apathy their grief and anxiety are likely to generate.

Valérie Donzelli is to be given special credit for her inspired direction. Not only does she pour her heart and soul into the filming of this painful chronicle but she also proves imaginative and creative, making use of an amazing variety of registers, devices and techniques which wind up making this movie unique: incongruous gags including during the most dramatic times; classic documentary (the way the little boy is treated in turns in Marseilles, in Paris and in Villejuif); original montages; inspired use of musical pieces creating the unexpected but effective cohabitation of Vivaldi, Delerue and pop music; resort to musical comedy (with the characters occasionally singing their feelings); use of metaphor (Juliette's disjointed run through the hospital corridor). And those examples are only a sample of all the personal touches Valérie Donzelli brings to this exceptional work.

Never indulging in pathos or sentimentality,"La guerre est déclarée" nevertheless contains very moving scenes or sequences, my personal favorite being the one in which the unfortunate couple, unable to find sleep on the night before their son's operation, tell each other their fears to best calm their fears.

A great shock, but a salutary one, "La guerre est déclarée", both the sincere account of a personal drama and a talented work of art for all, is one of the year 2011's masterpieces.
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simply life
SnoopyStyle13 October 2016
Roméo and Juliette are young actors in Paris. They meet at a club, and fall in love. He has a single mom living with her girlfriend. She has a middle of the road family. The couple has baby Adam but they notice that something is wrong. The doctors eventually discover that he has a brain tumor. They are devastated and they struggle through the difficult situation.

For all the personal drama, there isn't as much tension as one expects. It isn't melodramatic but there are a couple of incidences where the actors feel like overacting. The drama is never that dramatic but it is a great little slice of life. There is no medical breakthrough or large world implication. The couple isn't doing anything over the top. It's simply life poured onto the big screen.
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HK Neo Reviews: [36HKIFF] Declaration of War / La guerre est déclaré (2011) – France
webmaster-30177 May 2012
@ 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival

By being the opening film of the 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival, Declaration of War is a film that touches the audience hearts, but more importantly it talks about real humans, real events, real emotions and real surroundings. For that alone director and main actress deserves a simple round of applause. It is not easy to go through a traumatic experience and come out strongly by telling her life story through films. This film works because the director never stray away from its core issue of a couple dealing with their child having a brain trauma and all the other issues that goes along with it – losing money, jobs, lifestyle, relationships and ultimately themselves. It should be complimented that the film yet is about to play with a sense of humor along the way.

Valerie Donzelli not only carries the film as the mother and wife, but directs a film that is so personal to her. It was my honour to meet such a strong lady at the festival. In the scene where she ran and ran in the hospital corridors until she collapses is a perfect example of originality in her camera work and her ability to depicts and communicate a difficult moment. Likewise her former partner Jeremie Elkaim excels in a role that compliments Valerie and two display amazing chemistry that cannot just be manufactured.

All in all, Declaration of War is very much a personal film, about how a child's illness can affect almost everything in his parents life. Dealing with difficult times like these is never easy and often the wear and tear will stop any couple from living their lives. Points should be given to Valerie for being able to so convincing portray these emotions. Although the film seems raw at times, War is very much a perfect example of how an extremely personal film can still affect the audience. While the film may never be a masterpiece, Valerie have certainly created and shared something special…

Neo rates 8.5/10

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the atmosphere
Kirpianuscus4 September 2015
a puzzle from many, many crumbs. subtle performances. a real story. and fascinating definition of love. a film about family. about hope, angry, relatives. about expectations, cries and decisions. about the innocence. and about the sacrifice as basic ingredient of fight. about lost feelings and too high expectations. about the reflection of the other in yourself. a special more than beautiful film. strange and delicate. convincing in a manner who has the gift to remind new forms of the well known things. a film as testimony. and as poem about a war who changes all. a war who transforms and becomes the map for gestures, words and beginnings. a film about a couple against the ambiguity of the evil, and about a presure's form who transforms everything.
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was very surprised
criirsara200022 June 2012
At the beginning, I didn't want to see this movie, even if I read it tried not to be just a sad movie about a couple and their poor kid suffering of cancer. The movie is sad, even if end in a fairly good way, but it's bearable. But it also shows that life in this circumstances should also be positive or least one has to make an effort to make the story positive.

Said this, this movie moved me almost to tears, imagining the poor kid, even if the movie never shows his suffering.

And it's a movie that shows normal people, with a normal life, facing a tragedy. It could also be a movie that shows again we never have to give up and loose hope, but well, that's a true statement.
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This film is better than you might expect-a wonder of intimacy
zken29 January 2012
I saw this movie in a nearly completely empty theater on a Saturday night! Not good when you consider that there is so little else going on in the artistic desert of America. I just love the fact that this film is so intimate, so close yet the viewer is not left with a feeling of voyeurism. Rather it is a story of despair, hope, and almost surreal disconnections. The actors are the kind of people you know in advance. They are from a very naturalistic acting school that has a feeling of realism and joy that is affecting and not over done. The story is difficult to watch, but somehow drives along. I am sure an American company will re-make this and I am sure I will skip it. It is not that the French do this type of movie so well. It is that these actors are so much more interesting than the current crop of American standard bearers. I recommend this, but hurry, before it disappears.
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It was more than I expected, so far
juansaabvanegas26 January 2013
I thing that the best way to describe this film is "a real and credible story so well narrated". The acting was marvelous and the music memorable.

So delightful to see, and again, very credible. It takes the subject of that sickness on a very mature an natural way so this it's not the kind of Hollywood movie where you feel sad, but you can't feel close to the characters.

If you compare it with My Sister's Keeper, another movie on a similar subject, you will note that Declaration of War seems more realistic and dramatic. It also remember us that life is not made but superheroes, We are real people, full of a fears and insecurities.

Very recommended!
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makes me think twice
chuck-52611 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This film tells a story, lets you feel what it would really be like to live through these events. There's no detectable "message" nor "moral of the story". BUT even though the film itself doesn't lean that way, I couldn't help mulling over some larger social issues (and a few scenes in the film, although unremarked, contributed).

The cost of preserving a human life was wrecked personal finances, losing ownership of an apartment, a good marriage, a couple careers, and several of what should have been the best years of a couple lives. (The film doesn't dwell on these things, but it does report them. A credit card gets cut up. They create a nice meal in their imaginations. An offhand remark reports the loss of the apartment. And so forth.) Was it worth it? And why was the burden laid almost exclusively on one small nuclear family rather than on a larger community?

The state apparently paid for all the medical care (better than in the U.S.). But no state help was available for avoiding personal bankruptcy or for saving apartment ownership. Was that the best deployment of resources?

(Also, unconnected to the child's sickness, the film mentions that both parents had considerable trouble finding work. Some career aspirations on both sides were dashed. And there's even a suggestion the situation was so bad that Juliette took work in a different town several hours away.)
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Morally delightful! Surprisingly brilliant! Exceptionally inspirational!
shahroze-khan1117 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Nothing can ever go wrong with something as beautiful as this movie. I began watching it expecting it to be a usual french drama with a small little love story and beautiful locations. However, the story is ready to bounce back at you and slap you with those sort of morals that many of us are in need of these days. At one point, you are bound to judge the story as "Oh! I know what's going to happen next" and the next thing ,you are slammed back then and there and the story takes a whole new turn leaving you astound. No! It's not the same old story of a family grieving to a new born's certain aberrancy. It's beyond that. It's about people who can overthrow anything with a weapon as simple as a smile and a gear as simple as adaptability and confidence. A good observer will grasp a light undertone that emphasizes on the importance of having the right partner in times of need. What cant you conquer when you have a partner like Juliette, who is smart, profound, charming, understanding and strong willed, something that's extinct today. A well established Romeo-Juliet chemistry that can smile their way through every phase of life. And look, they win in the end. All they had was the courage and happy go easy attitude. They adapt everything that comes their way and walks over it saying "Hey! Well tried. But we're moving on". Could all of us be that way, the world would be the best place to live in. No unnecessary drama, no tears, no prolong dialogues and yet the happiness. A smile can dwell a mountain. To me, this film was an eye opener. All credits to Valerie and Jeremie for carrying out their performance so amazingly. What more could you ask from a movie? I say nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
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Cinema Omnivore - Declaration of War (2011) 7.6/10
lasttimeisaw19 January 2021
"If the premise looks dreary and distressful, that's the last thing Donzelli tries to evoke in her film, which is why, she over-dramatizes the most heartbreaking moments, viz. when the family members receive the bad tidings, to dull the edge of its pathos (their reactions are explosive rather than implosive), also by introducing Adam at the age of 8 (played by Gabriel himself) right out of the box, audience is reassured that all will be well. DOW plays up to the solidarity between Romeo and Juliette, and among their extended families throughout, meantime, it is also crucial to point up that even in the face of unforgiving adversity, people needs to offload their pressure and kick up their heels once in a while, an "open kiss" party could just do the trick, Donzelli and co. practice what they preach, seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, it is the Gallic spirit billowing out of the most arduous ordeal for a brace of young parents, a sentimental French chanson can just bob up at the drop of a hat, traversing different places to form a duet of the heart."

read my full review on my blog: cinema omnivore, thanks
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