Tag Archives: French films

Declaration of War

I’m beginning to understand the logic behind heading to “Talk Cinema” films at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts without knowing what they are. “Talk Cinema” is a monthly film screening featuring works selected by New York film critic Harlan Jacobson, and many of its subsribers choose to attend each month not knowing his selection.

But I always peek first, just like I did when Christmas presents called my name from under the tree as a very young child. The venue posts a link with information on the film just days before it’s screened, for those of us who like to look. I expected to watch a war film after seeing that the January selection was titled “Declaration of War,” and I did.

But “Declaration of War” doesn’t recount a battle of countries or ideas. Instead, it’s the tale of two French parents tackling their young son’s brain tumor. I wasn’t feeling particularly perky Tuesday night before heading out to the screening, and expecting to be hit with a depressing flick made it harder to get up and go. But something in the movie’s poster signaled it might be more joyous than morose.

And I was curious, having seen one of our own children battle cancer, about how another family’s struggle might look different from our own. Many in the audience spoke after the film of feeling incredibly sad while viewing it, but I felt quite the opposite — because the boy expected to die before he could start school instead becomes a cancer survivor. And despite the family’s tragedy, their lives are filled with simple joys that others facing less trying times often have a hard time mustering.

“Declaration of War” was written by Valerie Donzelli and Jeremie Elkaim, the parents at the heart of the film, and directed by Donzelli. Both were working actors in France prior to creating and starring in this film, which premiered during critics week at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was submitted by France for the foreign-language film Oscar. Donzelli was also writer, actor and director for a 2009 film called “The Queen of Hearts.”

Their characters in “Declaration of War” are young parents named Romeo and Juliette. As the film opens, we hear two oddly similar  but jarring sounds — the beat of club music and the drumming sound of an MRI machine in action. Their time with one quickly shifts to time with the other, hasted cinematically by quick, rough shots using a Canon 5D camera and pulsating music that drives them quickly from the diaper stage to diagnosis — from feeling inept within the walls of their home to being empowered inside hospital corridors.

In the film, infant son Adam (César Desseix) seems perfectly normal at birth. Once home, he cries nearly non-stop — something parents and professionals chalk up to being overfed or getting new teeth until other problems emerge. The 18-month old can’t balance to walk and begins vomiting for no apparent reason. Eventually a doctor spots something suspicious, and orders the test that launches the couple’s journey into childrearing and cancer.

Our first look at Adam comes quite early in the film, when he’s eight years old and played by the couple’s own son, Gabriel Elkaim. Jacobson says it frees the viewer to follow the film’s sometimes wild ride rather than fretting throughout about the boy’s possible death. Gabriel survives cancer but the couple’s romantic relationship, conveyed in the film by singing to and with one another, does not — though they continue to parent and work together.

Jacobson shared his film expertise during a talk-back session after the screening, noting that box office sales in France rose last year as box office sales in the U.S. sagged. Despite higher ticket sales, he says, our box office revenues fell by 12%. 

Apparently Americans don’t have much appetite for foreign films. “If you like  foreign films,” quiped Jacobson, “you’re part of the one percent.” About 1/3 of foreign film revenues in the U.S. are earned in New York City, he says. Hence my daughter’s delight in seeing movies in Manhattan weeks before they open in Arizona.

The current “Talk Cinema” series at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts includes four more screenings — on Feb. 7, March 20, April 17 and May 8. Tickets for students (with current student I.D.) are just $10. There’s no popcorn, and the crowd is remarkably quiet, making for a lovely low-cal evening enjoyed alone or with friends.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about a Scottsdale-based organization called Students Supporting Brain Tumor Research, which presents their 2012 Phoenix/Scottsdale walk-a-thon on Sun, Feb. 12.

Coming up: Celebrating MLK the arts & culture way


Shakespeare, shoes and soldiers

When I discovered the latest issue of Phoenix Art Museum’s membership magazine in my mailbox today, I decided all those pesky bills nestled alongside it could wait. After all, I had urgent matters to attend to — like alerting you to the museum’s “National Theatre Live” series, kicking off in a just a few days with a live broadcast of “One Man, Two Guvnors.”

Seating for these babies is limited, so consider yourself warned. And mark your calendar for future adventures in British theater coming to the Phoenix Art Museum — including broadcasts of “The Kitchen” (Nov 13), “Collaborators” (Jan 15) and “Comedy of Errors” (March 18).

I found this fun image at 44th St. and E. Thomas Rd.

But it’s the bit about shoes that really got me worked into a frenzy. Seems the film “God Save My Shoes,” which debuted in Paris, will have its Phoenix premiere Fri, Oct 28 at the Phoenix Art Museum. I’m told it “explores why shoes are the most seductive and addictive item in a woman’s closet.” Apparently Parisians don’t keep chocolate in their closets.

Turns out there’s plenty for kids to enjoy at the Phoenix Art Museum next month. The museum presents an “Under 21” event for teens Fri, Oct 7 from 6:30-8:30pm. “Fashion’s Passion” gives teens a chance to explore the museum’s latest fashion exhibition and “draw from a live model during the First Friday festivities.”

The next “PhxArtKids Days” event takes place Sun, Oct 9 from noon-3pm. “Drawing Disoveries” for ages 5-12 (with an adult companion) is a participatory art experience that’ll help kids explore “how art is more than just paint and paper.” Kids will also get to draw their own masterpieces using they’ve learned.

Don’t overlook the obvious while you’re there. The Phoenix Art Museum has all sorts of exhibitions on the horizon, including the following:

  • The West Select. Features landscapes, still-lifes, wildlife and much more. Oct 23-Nov 20 in the Steele Gallery.
  • Ray Wielgus: The Art of Engraved Firearms. Features embellished modified, antique firearms. Through Dec 26 in the Lyon Gallery.
  • Iconic AZ. Features a visual tour of famous places and iconic symbols. Nov 12, 2011-March 4, 2012 in the Norton Photographic Gallery.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century. Features drawings, scale models, furniture, films and photographs. Dec 18, 2011-April 29, 2012.

Veterans, retired military, active duty service men and women and their immediate families can enjoy complimentary admission to the Phoenix Art Museum Fri, Nov 11 in recognition of Veterans Day.

A special program called “The American Spirit” kicks off at 3pm that day with VFW Post #6310 presenting the colors and leading the Pledge of Allegiance. It features master docent Sherry Koopot giving a “visual tour of the American landscape” that includes “images of the land American soldiers have fought for and continue to protect.”

— Lynn

Note: The Phoenix Art Museum invites Arizona lovers to submit their favorite sunsets, landmarks, street scenes, state parks or other subjects that answer the question, “What’s your iconic Arizona?” Visit www.phxart.org\centennial after Nov 1 to upload your favorite photos. Photographs will be included in a digital slideshow on view in the gallery and online.

Coming up: More art meets patriotism

Sarah’s Key

Sarah's Key follows the lives of two families connected by history

The movie “Sarah’s Key” opens in 2009 Paris as a couple and their teen daughter Zoe settle on an apartment they plan to live in once renovations are completed.

But it quickly flashes back to an earlier time when a Jewish family living in the apartment hears a loud series of knocks on the door. Soon a mother and her daughter, Sarah, are hauled away with others wearing yellow “Juden” patches.

A choice Sarah makes in 1942 stays with her for a lifetime

A neighbor looks on through an open window, screaming that “they had it coming to them.” Another screams a response across the courtyard — warning that they’ll be coming for her next. It’s 1942.

Before leaving the apartment, Sarah settles her younger brother into a hidden closet, telling him to wait there until she returns. As she’s herded away, Sarah clutches the closet’s key in her tightly clenched fist.

Many of the movie's messages come from characters Sarah encounters

Sarah’s parents scold her for leaving him behind, unaware that they’ll soon meet a dangerous fate. As families are loaded for transport, the streets are full of chaos. It’s filmed so viewers feel they’re in the middle of it all, and it’s terrifying.

As scenes move back and forth between past and present, we see journalists discussing story ideas during an editorial meeting. One, Zoe’s mother, wants to write about French authorities rounding up Jewish citizens — something the younger journalists know little about.

A journalist named Julia goes in search of Sarah

The journalist, Julia, learns that the apartment handed down from her husband’s parents was once home to Sarah and her family — leading her to question their morality and to search for Sarah’s fate.

Sarah and her parents were first taken to a giant arena with no access to bathrooms, food or water. There they meet a woman who gives Sarah some advice — Think of yourself, only yourself.

Eventually they’re loaded onto trains, where they meet an old man wearing a large ring. He tells them it contains poison. “Nobody,” he says, “can choose when I die.”

At a transit camp, men are separated from women. Girls over 12 stay with their mothers. Younger children are herded to a separate area. It’s the last time members of Sarah’s family see each other, and it’s gut-wrenching.

Julia plots her own future while contemplating lives of those who lived in the past

We eventually learn what happens to Sarah, her parents and her brother. And we watch Julia comes to terms with this, and many other discoveries — about herself, about those she loves, about her own dreams for the future.

“Sarah’s Key” is a beautiful, thoughtful and sensitive film that tackles the impact of the Holocaust on individuals and families without being heavy-handed. It’s as hopeful as it is bleak, and it’ll leave you wondering how you might have handled similar circumstances.

“We’re all a product of our history,” says one character to another near the end of the film. “Go on son, don’t be afraid.”

— Lynn

Note: The movie “Sarah’s Key” is based on a historical novel by the same name, authored by Tatiana de Rosnay. (Shakespeare fans can check Fathom events for Valley theaters showing “Henry IV-Part 1” on Aug 1 as part of Shakespeare’s Globe London Cinema Series.)

Coming up: Review of “Baby!” at Arizona Broadway Theatre