Valérie Donzelli draws on her real-life experiences as mother to a sick child in the whimsical, likable Declaration of War
<P>Even in this much more sober story context, Donzetti can't resist cramming in every stylistic whim that comes to mind, from superimpositions to interior voices and multiple anonymous narrators, not excluding a bursting into song. The cost of her chasing after such spontaneity is that sometimes a gamble falls flat, calling attention to itself without adding anything, like the soundtrack choice of some overly gimmicky electronica when Juliette freaks out during her child's CAT Scan. Eclecticism isn't always an ideal tactic, especially when a subject like this one demands a certain groundedness.
<P>But many of her tactics work, finding humor in surprising places and refreshing some familiar devices of domestic tragedy. Donzetti has a very sure touch with actors; she and the ingratiating Elkaïm work so well together that we don't mind their characters remain in some ways underdeveloped. (In fact this seems somewhat intentional — Juliette and Romeo plunge into serious commitment before they're fully formed adults, and the script doesn't spare them the odd outburst that's childishly unflattering.) Much less melodramatic than its title would suggest, <I>Declaration of War </I>is uneven but full of life and ideas — there's room for Donzetti to refine her directorial instincts, but one hopes they stay a little messy.
<B>DECLARATION OF WAR </B>opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.