In the fresh and edgy new French film Declaration of War, young parents become consumed with the fear that their son's constant shrieking and wobbly, delayed steps signify something frightening.
When the discovery of a brain tumor in their toddler confirms their worst suspicions, they assert the gesture of the title - in a sense, vowing to fight the diagnosis with every fiber of their being. Yet you'd be wrong to surmise that the movie is morbid and depressing because in fact, it's a primal, joyous celebration of life.
The film operates as autobiographical catharsis, in that lead actress Valerie Donzelli directed and co-wrote the movie with her male co-star, Jeremie Elkaim, and the couple went through a similar experience in their own relationship. That they've turned their ordeal into a movie that's both intense and effervescent is a testament to their talent.
They play actors named Romeo and Juliette who upset the order of old-fashioned French cinema: they meet, conceive and birth a child, and then fall in love. That bond sees them through the nightmarish diagnoses and misdiagnoses that ultimately bring their son the treatments and therapy that keep him alive and free of pain. Also helpful are their extended families (including his two moms) and friends, who collectively help the couple focus on what's important when and how to behave accordingly.
It's only Donzelli's second film, and she's equally impressive behind and in front of the camera. There's a beautiful scene of her breaking the news to the families that's silent except for the sounds of Johann Sebastian Bach. And another at a carnival where she and Romeo take a break from the medical vigil while we hear Laurie Anderson's haunting "O Superman." It's a lovely, poetic film.