***1/2 (out of four)
The exhilarating “Declaration of War” features exciting, romantic moments, but it is not a romance. The French film offers intense, unimaginable heartache, but it is not a tragedy. The story of Romeo (co-writer Jeremie Elkaim) and Juliette (director/co-writer Valerie Donzelli), who are certainly aware of the fate their names imply, merely confronts the tremendous, terrifying turning points that make life so unpredictable.
A whirlwind romance turns into happy domestic life turns into indefinite sorrow when Romeo and Juliette's 18-month-old son Adam is diagnosed with a brain tumor. (Elkaim and Donzelli really do, in fact, have a son who is a cancer survivor.) Treatment requires much time; surgery promises a moderate chance of success. Through it all Romeo and Juliette crack but don't crumble, supporting each other with strength they probably never knew they had.
If Donzelli and Elkaim didn't incorporate voiceover to take some narrative shortcuts, “Declaration of War” would electrify throughout, even in its softest, saddest moments. Instead, the movie, which possesses unexpected humor and an incredible use of music, is just a very, very good chronicle of something that can happen to anyone, and how to steer a ship when there's no turning back.
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