"Declaration of War" is an unusual entry in the Oscar race for Best Foreign-Language Film: It was made not by a well-known French director but by actress-turned-director Valerie Donzelli, and it premiered not in the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival, but as a special screening in the lower-profile Critics Week section.
The film is extraordinarily personal. It tells the story of a couple whose young son contracts a rare form of cancer, with Donzelli and her real-life former partner Jeremie Elkaim starring in roles based on their life. Their son, who recovered, even makes an appearance late in the film.
"The medical events in the film are all true to what we went through," Donzelli told TheWrap after a recent screening at which the film drew strongly positive reactions from an audience filled with Academy voters. "But I didn't want to show the treatment, or push the emotion onto viewers."
The film reportedly played extremely well at its official Academy screening, and is a strong candidate to make the foreign-language shortlist. A distinctly un-Hollywood take on a subject that could be milked for tears, "Declaration of War" backs away from details of the cancer, and refuses to use the uncertainty of the child's survival for suspense. Instead, it focuses on its impact on the parents' relationship – and remarkably, given subject matter that could be unbearably grim, Donzelli manages to keep a lightness in tone.
TheWrap has an exclusive clip of a scene from the film in which Donzelli and Elkaim escape the oppressive atmosphere of the hospital where their son has gone for treatment.
"Declaration of War" will get a U.S. release from IFC's Sundance Selects on Jan. 27.