Declaration of War

Q: What is the difference between a surgeon and God?
A: God doesn't think he's a surgeon.

A little medical humor courtesy of this year's Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film from France (English captions). It won Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Film at the 2011 Gijon Film Festival in Spain. This oddly intimate but affecting little piece is directed by Valerie Donzelli, who co-wrote the script with Jeremie Elkaim, the father of her two children and it's based on their own experience. They play a couple who meet, fall in love, and have a baby boy. Before he's a year old he is found to have a malignant brain tumor.

The Declaration of War in the title is the determination with which they confront the challenges of having a critically sick child: they keep them- selves in good physical shape; they develop a plan to cope with friends and relatives; they present a united front to the medical world; they maintain a wry sense of humor; and they love their little boy without fail. As their world shrinks to the size of a children's hospital, we watch as they become familiar with the staff, the routine, the environment and the treatments. Occasionally they blow off steam by going dancing or riding on a motor scooter, but their everyday life is determined by their son's treatment schedule.

The sound track consists of some instrumentals, some songs sung by people on the screen, some rhythmic sounds that are the same beat as guys painting a wall with roller brushes, and others are just peculiar. Engaging but peculiar.... There are bits of humor scattered throughout, and given the topic matter, we clutch at them like a drowning man.

The hospital staff is mostly sympathetic, but this personal crisis is just part of the job to them. Clearly based on personal experience, little touches feel authentic: the child is completely oblivious to his prognosis, he's more interested in Nintendo. By the way, the boy who plays their son at age eight is actually their own child.

For anyone who has been through this personal hell, it's satisfying to see that many of their thoughts and concerns are universal to the human condition.
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