Thursday, October 31, 2013

La Guerre est déclarée

2011, France, directed by Valérie Donizelli

My godson came to visit from France this past summer, and brought with him a stack of DVDs curated by his mother, an avid filmgoer and sometime actress. I'm not sure if there was a conscious theme, but I was struck by the prominence of children in all of the films bar one -- and the absence of children was a key point there. Children and parenting are front and center here, with a story inspired by Donizelli's real-life experience of dealing with a seriously ill child, whose father, Jérémie Elkaïm, co-stars. While the film ultimately couldn't quite sustain the running time, the first hour is terrific.

That hour is one of the rare bits of cinema that effectively captures the maddening experience of parenthood, for better or worse: the evaporation of one's free time, the crankiness of existing with limited sleep, the joy in small moments, the emotional whiplash of a child who can be wondrous and unbearable almost at the same time. Not many films capture all of that -- and the sense that it's worth all of the challenges. What makes Donizelli's film especially distinctive, though, is her decision not to hew to an exclusively realist mode: there's a beguiling scene when the two lead actors sing to one another, like something from Demy, though later on the scenes of musical accompaniment do come to seem as though they are padding the running time. Still, like virtually all films dealing with children/parenting these days, I found the film as a whole entirely captivating -- and almost unwatchable during several of the hospital sequences, despite the complete absence of anything that might alarm the squeamish.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States