Declaration of War

Film
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
Declaration of War

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

You don't have to be a Park Slope stroller-pusher to appreciate the miniature victory French director Valrie Donzelli pulls off in her tale of parental anxiety. Obstacles abound from the get-go, starting with the writer, director and star's own tendency towards hypertweeness: After the film's couple, Romo (Elkam) and Juliet (Donzelli), meet cute at a house party, viewers are treated to an achingly hip montage of the twosome frolicking around Paris. A crying baby on the soundtrack interrupts the reverie, prompting typical bickering over their son, named---what else?---Adam, and a narration-heavy tour of life during toddlertime. (Someone's boned up on their Truffaut.) Then Romo notices some odd behavior in the child, and a doctor soon confirms the worst: The 18-month-old has a brain tumor. War has been declared.

This is the point at which most films would start scrupulously wringing every emotional moment for maximum cancersploitation. Instead, Donzelli gives Mere and Pere a moment to break down, and then the two steel themselves for a brutal fight. Friends and family circle the wagons; not even France's frustrating health-care system weakens their resolve. The longer Romo and Juliet endure, the more this medical drama gently brushes aside every anticipated disease-of-the-week clich. (That the former real-life couple actually went through a comparable ordeal only heightens a nightmarish sense of verisimilitude.) Parenting relies on stamina as much as compassion, and Donzelli has, against all odds, crafted a genuinely moving ode to both the tenacity of filial love under extreme circumstances and the toll it extracts. Consider this a coup.

Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear

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