Film #14 of 2012: Declaration of War


I saw this movie more or less on accident, but it turned out to be one of the best accidents I’ve had in a long while.  My friend asked me if I wanted to see a Spanish film at the Portland International Film Festival last night, and when we looked it up we discovered that it was showing in Lake Oswego, not downtown Portland – a problem, since neither of us own a car and the bus only runs from campus to downtown.  We only had a few minutes to pick a new movie to go see, and we chose Declaration of War because, despite its depressing-sounding summary (two parents cope with having a critically ill child), we both love French films.  This turned out to be a really good choice. 

Declaration of War embodies everything I love about French cinema.  One thing I’ve noticed about the outlook on life displayed in movies from France is that they tend to view even incredibly morbid subjects with a uniquely whimsical, humorous eye.  Anyone who’s watched Delicatessen knows that the French can make anything – even a post-apocalyptic world full of cannibalism – into a charming love story.  Declaration of War (which has no cannibalism, by the way, just in case you were worrying about that) is a remarkably sweet look at how a young couple deals with the horror of having a severely ill child.  The use of humor is truly remarkable in this film – I’ve never seen a sweeter, more sensitive and charming treatment of such a dark subject.  One moment, I (and the rest of the audience) was tearful; the next, laughing.  It’s a remarkably realistic look at how we can find humor in even the darkest of times, but it’s not overly sentimental at all.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough.  It’s a beautiful representation of the agony of fearing for the life of a loved one, the trajectory of love, and the strength people have in times of need.  If you are into movies about chain-smoking French people in love, or stories about the difficulties of life interlaced with humor, then watching Declaration of War is one of the best ways you could spend an evening.

16. The Congress (Ari Folman, Israel, 2013)

This is totally crazy, but not nearly as crazy as a straight adaptation of The Futurological Congress would be. I didn’t love it, but it’s overflowing with ambition, and there are some really astonishing visual moments. There are sequences where there are so many beautiful things happening in the frame that you wish you could just pause the shot in the theater and stare at it for hours.


My Favorite Films at the 38th Portland International Film Festival (2015)

  • Jauja  (Lisandro Alonso / Argentina)
  • Hotel Nueva Isla  (Irene Gutiérrez Torres & Javier Labrador / Cuba)
  • Waiting for August  (Teodora Ana Mihai / Romania)
  • Güeros  (Alonso Ruizpalacios / Mexico)
  • Horse Money  (Pedro Costa / Portugal)
  • Timbuktu  (Abderrahmane Sissako / Mauritania)
  • Rocks in My Pockets  (Signe Baumane / USA & Latvia)
  • Tu Dors Nicole  (Stéphane Lafleur / Canada) 
  • Clouds of Sils Maria  (Olivier Assayas / France)
  • Corn Island  (George Ovashvili / Georgia)
  • A Girl At My Door  (July Jung / South Korea)
  • Jalanan  (Daniel Ziv / Indonesia)

I wasn’t crazy about any of these, but each of them was interesting in one way or another:

  • The President  (Mohsen Makhmalbaf / Georgia)
  • Phoenix  (Christian Petzold / Germany)
  • Artico  (Gabri Velazquez / Spain)
  • Concrete Night  (Pirjo Honkasalo / Finland)
  • Factory Girl  (Mohamed Khan / Egypt)

I also saw three shorts programs, from which I’d say the following films were outstanding. The first five on this list all come from “She Never Dreams of Places,” the avant-garde/experimental program organized by the good people at Cinema Project, who always make the most reliably amazing curatorial decisions.

  • Now Eat My Script  (Mounira Al Solh / Lebanon)
  • Broken Tongue  (Monica Saviron / US)
  • Return to Aeolus Street  (Maria Kourkouta / France) 
  • Time Being I-VI (Barbara Sternberg / Canada)
  • Sleeping District  (Tinne Zenner / Denmark)
  • The Last Days of Peter Bergman  (Ciaran Cassidy / Ireland)
  • Layover (Vanessa Renwick / USA)
  • The Karman Line  (Oscar Sharp / UK)
39th Annual Portland International Film Festival
Oregon's largest film event featuring more than 140 films. Review the film lineup for the 38th Portland International Film Festival, Feb. 11-27, 2016.

Cemetery of Splendour, Right Now, Wrong Then, Dheepan, Arabian Nights, The Lobster, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, The Forbidden Room, Francofonia, No Home Movie, The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, In The Shadow of Women! So many exciting films this year.

25. In Bloom / გრძელი ნათელი დღეები (Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Gross, Georgia, 2013)

Jonathan Romney said it well in Film Comment“You might, without being disparaging, call In Bloom a perfect vin ordinaire of a film. It’s the sort of drama that you’ll always find at least one example of at any festival: an autobiographical coming-of-age story about two female friends, set against a particular cultural and geographic backdrop. In Bloom is in many ways a textbook example of the genre…” HOWEVER, it “so triumphantly, albeit modestly, transcends its category that it’s really quite special.”

This a powerful, beautiful film, with a handful of truly extraordinary moments (a long, single-take solo dance scene is particularly extraordinary) and it goes (or chooses not to go!) to some really surprising places. I’m really happy Georgian cinema seems to be making a comeback—do not miss this if you get a chance to see it.

PIFF 38, #1

The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, 2014)

Not as male-gazey as I had feared, but not different enough from Berberian Sound Studio to be as interesting as I had hoped (same 70s nostalgia, same third act surrealism). Some nice Svankmajer treatment of bugs and a surprising amount of humor, but otherwise not extraordinarily exciting. A nice way to spend two hours.

4 Total Walkouts.

Hey Portland people, the PDF for the 36th Portland International Film Festival is online, and hot damn does it look good. New films by Herzog, Resnais, Assayas, Vinterberg and Cristian Mungiu’s new film Beyond The Hills, which I’m most excited for. And more importantly, I just realized that Amour finally opened here on Friday. So I know what I’m doing today.