Declaration of War (France)
Before the above transpires the Declaration of War opens at a doctor's office with their elementary school aged son. The start in that setting 5-6 years in the future ensures viewers know there are problems ahead. Whether you should take that visit as everything works out or not shouldn't be spoiled by any review. After they meet there's a respite as Romeo and Juliet fall hard for each other, move in and start a family. While their meeting was chance and sudden they are a great couple where the love at first sight wasn't just Cupid screwing with them. It's clear these two are actually right for each other.
As their baby son Adam grows they struggle with the sort of issues new parents are faced with. As always in the movies that's represented by incessant crying causing them to worry something is seriously wrong. Until they find a patient and wise pediatrician who sets their minds at ease. Things are good again until a series of small things trigger a terrifying diagnosis. The couple resolves to fight. Putting their faith in their doctors and deriving support from each other and their families.** Their declaration of war is most openly on the cancer, but from the presentation of the film you'd be reasonable to interpret it further as a fight against despair. And possibly against the typical movie of the week treatment of such an undesired "adventure."
About this point if I were reading this description of the film I would be thinking about all the things I'd rather do that sit through such a sad state of affairs. Normally that'd be the right call for me. But Declaration of War is so different that skipping it would be a huge mistake. First off, Romeo and Juliette behave like real people. Albeit really really good people. They get frustrated, mad, depressed and at times are just desperately in need of a break. They exaggerate the highs at times and behave in ways some would view as irrational - if they've never had to deal with a major life threatening illness for themselves or a child. But they're also still very much in love - and that aspect makes the film watchable. Painful, yes. But beautifully so. There's also music and visuals well integrated to make this a crazy emotional ride that will make you cry without feeling like a manipulative tearjerker. Leaving the viewer with what I think is a more honest telling of this sad sad story than most filmmakers would produce. The direction by Valérie Donzelli (who plays Juliette) creates a look of a much an older French classic (the poster's illusions to Truffaut feel fair). The script by Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm (who plays Romeo) always never hits a false note. It's just a joy to see something like this.
In short Declaration of War is a wonderful film. There's a lot that could have gone wrong. But somehow the film threads the needle perfectly. Producing something that feels realistic, life-affirming, beautifully painful at times, visually creative and joy to watch. A large part of that is likely due to the couple, if one doesn't buy into them no amount of craft would cover that sin. Thankfully it worked - producing a film guaranteed to earn a spot on my best of 2012 list.
* Due to the casual drug usage that's rewarded by a great romance, not because they're French.
** Only as I wrote this review did I realize how implicitly positive the entire piece is about the French health care system. Sadly, I expect a US version of this would have had to devote considerable time to the parent fighting with an insurance company, or at least worrying how to continue coverage when they both stop working at some point.