portland international film festival

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.

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.