F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 23, 2015)

23 04 2015

Declaration of War

I am thankful for the arrival of the Cannes lineup every year, and not just for the great new films it promises to introduce to the world.  The official selection also serves to highlight great artists with past works that have gone unnoticed or underappreciated.  In the past, this festival has led me to encounter the cinema of the Dardennes, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Francois Ozon, and Abbas Kiarostami.  (Admittedly, these were all names I probably should have already known.)

With the 2015 edition of the festival, I am already eagerly exploring the new masters of world cinema that the Cannes programmers believe are worth our attention.  One pleasant find is Valérie Donzelli, a French actress turned director.  At this year’s festival, she will present “Marguerite & Julien” in the main competition, yet Donzelli is no stranger to the Boulevard de la Croisette.

Back in 2011, she presented her sophomore feature, “Declaration of War,” in the Critics’ Week sidebar at Cannes to wide acclaim.  Unfortunately, though, it never popped up on my radar until I was searching Donzelli’s name on Netflix after the competition announcement.  But I am glad to catch up with this remarkable film at any time, and I now absolutely count myself a fan of its director.

Donzelli tackles a decidedly unsavory topic in “Declaration of War” as two young parents grappling with their infant’s serious illness.  Yet somehow, the film manages to delight and enchant even in spite of its heavy subject matter.  Much of the success of the film stems from Donzelli’s directorial verve.  This is my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” because of her erratic, eclectic choices that adapt to meet the mood of the movie on a minute-to-minute basis.

From its opening irony of a man and a woman growing infatuated with each other at a party whose names are Romeo and Juliette to its closing nod to Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” Donzelli’s “Declaration of War” teems with excitement and unpredictability.  Like David O. Russell’s recent burst of work, the aesthetic changes as tonal shifts require it.  Need to convey Juliette’s trauma in the wake of devastating news regarding her son’s health?  Donzelli uses shaky cam action as she runs through the halls of the hospital.  Need to portray both Romeo and Juliette’s thoughts on an issue?  Donzelli opts for dueling voice-overs here and there.

Many directors try this mix-and-match approach, and it often results in sloppy, choppy final products.  “Declaration of War” never feels anything less than a fine-tuned, well-calibrated experience.  It conveys a poignant story rife with authentic emotion and utilizes a great deal of cinematic tools to bring that narrative to vibrant life.

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