Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Declaration of War (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Declaration of War

 Here is a film that tells it like it is without any manipulative jolts or persuasive music. The Oscar nominated "Declaration of War" a film by Valerie Donzelli is simple, direct and near perfect in tone. This achievement is even more notable because it is a true story. The director Donzelli stars in the picture as Juliette, the mom trying to save her infant son who has a brain tumor. The film also stars the film's co-author and real life husband to Donzelli, Jeremie Elkaim.

The film does not hold back but instead of being somber and morbid, it is ultimately celebrational. This by itself, is a revolution.

From the very first moment we are presented with a pastiche of elements from Juliette's present existence. She walks her two year old son, Adam, up to the MRI machine. Her face is tense and watchful. Vibrational noise assaults her and within seconds we are transported to when mother and father first met during a very loud and jarring Rave party. There are images of people spastically jumping about as if stricken with seizures. The noise blends with the upsetting blast of the MRI. What was once taken in fun is now serious medical business. We get the feeling that much of the youth is wasted.

These are two parents that have no set solutions. As mother and father they are winging it by trial and error. Rather than come at the audience with a predetermined emotional agenda, each one of us is left with our own feelings and responses.

The director gives us the liberty to think for ourselves. As each scene in "Declaration of War" churns  and mixes in a unique rave of human experience, what unfolds is a kind of suspense story. Much is told quietly with human sounds in deep close up. All eyes are on baby Adam. Like the parents, Romeo and Juliette we hang on every gurgle and tilt of the head and are often left in the dark as to its meaning. As the camera closes in on a clinic door, there is sometimes as much tension as a Roman Polanski supernatural thriller.

Yet the only real demons here are those of parental indecision.

At one point, I could not help recalling my own terrified feelings as a five year old undergoing orthopedic surgery on my subluxated hips. I was fraught with panic  and when I watched Adam's gurney pull away, it seemed I saw my own mother wave to me once again through the bars of the gurney, cut off and fearful. Watching the infant Adam stand straight up as he was wheeled away, I also thought of Nim the chimpanzee as he was pulled away into the lab. Whether simian or sapien, fear of the unknown and medical pain is universal. And I never have seen such genuine gravity portrayed on a doctor's face.

"Declaration of War" is no doom and gloom morbid story. It is simply a portion of  an adventure in the life of a family. With its rapid motion and its circular pacing, the multi-tasking rhythms between beginning, middle and end (with Adam walking like a hi-tech soldier armed with a video game), the film has as much to do with music as it does with images. 

"Declaration of War" although not always peaceful, is a completely involving experience of three lives in motion without any audience-tested agenda or programmed sensation. Re-arrange your schedule if you must, but make a point to see this film.

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