Sad - but don't let it scare you away

Valérie Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm play a modern Romeo and Juliette fighting for their baby's life.

France's official entry in the 2012 Academy Award foreign-language competition (alas, it didn't make the final cut) and a hit at last year's Cannes fest, Valérie Donzelli's Declaration of War deals with issues that may scare audiences away.

Don't let it.

Spirited, honest, sweet, sad, life-affirming, relationship-affirming, it's the story or a Paris couple whose names are - yes - Romeo (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Juliette (Donzelli). They meet. They fall in love. They have a baby. And then, the baby gets sick.

Very sick.

And so, Donzelli's and Elkaïm's characters are thrown into a world of profound worry: hospitals, CAT scans, MRIs, pediatric neurologists, hovering in-laws, sleepless nights, money woes, imagining a life without their son, Adam. But the film never becomes maudlin, nor melodramatic - the pair struggle mightily to maintain an even keel in these choppy waters, and Donzelli excels at conveying both the emotional highs and lows of their experience.

The actors project an ease and affinity on screen, and clearly some of that comes from the fact that Donzelli and Elkaïm have ownership of the story: They wrote the screenplay together.

As a filmmaker, Donzelli deploys a heady, headlong style that recalls some early French New Wave (lots of running across city streets, lots of exuberant music, fast cuts, interior monologues and voice-over), but it never comes across as precious, or predictable. Declaration of War feels very present, very alive.

And it's very much worth seeing.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at


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