Sing Through the Pain
About eight years ago, French actors Valérie Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm were informed that their 18-month-old son was suffering from a brain tumor. Their tribulations in the years since then are the subject of Declaration of War, a highly unusual film written by and starring the two actors themselves and directed by Donzelli. It’s playing this weekend at the Modern.
You might expect a movie with this subject matter to be pretty grim, but the fact that the characters based on the filmmakers are named Roméo and Juliette tips you off to something more whimsical. (Another signal that a happy ending is in store is the appearance of their now-9-year-old son Gabriel at the very beginning of the movie.) Donzelli communicates Roméo and Juliette’s resolve and despair through jump cuts, exhilarating ceaseless motion, and wall-to-wall music. There’s even a musical number shortly after the parents learn of their son’s diagnosis. The resulting film is a wild, whirling, colorful, expressionistic work with raw emotions spilling out everywhere, especially in the reactions of the star-crossed lovers and their relatives. The script doesn’t ignore the inconvenient and complex emotions faced by parents in this situation, but its sheer exuberance and flamboyance makes this movie unique among its kind.