Instead of focusing on the misfortune of the tumor itself, the film takes a different and refreshing direction by focusing on how the couple deals with the tragedy.
Declaration of War
Declaration of War is about the nightmare that every parent with a sick newborn fears, that something is not quite right with their child. This French film by Valérie Donzelli, who also shares a lead role, is ultimately about coping with experiences that one cannot prepare for in life. Interestingly, Declaration of War is an autobiography of the two leads in the film, which enables them to accurately tell the story from their point-of-view and how they persevered with the circumstance.
A woman recalls how she and her husband first met at a dive bar, noticing each other from opposite sides of the bar. The first thing they discover is that together their names are Roméo (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Juliette (Valérie Donzelli). Because of that coincidence, they mockingly state that they are doomed to a terrible fate from the start. Considering the very opening sequence is of Juliette taking a child in for a CAT scan, the film alludes that their destiny will in fact have some sort of tragedy down the line.
The flashback of events continues right after the birth of their firstborn child named Adam. The young couple experiences many of the problems that first-time parents endure like trying to figure out why their baby will not stop crying. They each have their own theories but eventually they seek out help from a pediatrician. The doctor notices that Adam has an asymmetrical face and orders that a CAT scan be done. Results from the tests confirm the fears that all parents have, their 18 month child is found to have a brain tumor.
Because Declaration of War makes known the fact that Juliette is at the hospital for a CAT scan with her son, it comes to little surprise that a tumor is discovered. But the main purpose of the film is to show how the couple react with the tragic news and the effects it has on their relationship. A great example of this is the night just before the operation when the couple naturally starts to assume the worst. A serious discussion starts off as they recite their fears of their child becoming deaf or a mute after the operation, but ends with the couple playfully joking about how it might make their child a right-wing nutcase or a queer. Making light of a serious situation is a natural way that humans deal with catastrophes and the film succeeds at showing it.
Some of the aesthetic choices in Declaration of War work better than others. For example, some parts of the film use narration to unnecessarily describe what is happening on screen, while the majority does not. Then there is a duet sing-along between the couple that feels completely out of place. Even the title of the film is a little baffling as the war that is happening during the time period is only briefly referenced in one scene. However, the visuals always seemed to enhance what was on screen. Also the score keeps what could have been a very gloomy film a somewhat lively one at times by throwing in some upbeat music over the dramatic events that unfold. This off-kilter music choice coincides well with what I mentioned previously about how dealing with serious situations is often handled with light-spirited humor.
The best part about Declaration of War is the way it handled the story. Instead of focusing on the misfortune of the tumor itself, the film takes a different and refreshing direction by focusing on how the couple deals with the tragedy. Furthermore, the film continues to bend what would normally be in store for a film about on cancer, by keeping the tone mostly hopeful and whimsical instead of just dreary. The result is a film that has less of an emotional punch but more of a realistic composition.