May 10, 2012|
HK Magazine: How did you come up with the idea of making “Declaration of War?”
Valérie Donzelli: Unlike some people think, I didn’t make the movie to recount my own story. It’s rather the other way around—I wanted to make a movie, and I thought my personal experience could be good material for it. I’ve directed a film before but only in a 4:3 aspect ratio, so I’d always been wanting to direct the second one in widescreen ratio, you know, to give it a real movie feel. So essentially, the desire of making a film first, and the subject matter came second. I didn’t want to make the movie an exploitation of me and my son’s life.
HK: You wrote the screenplay with you son’s father, Jérémie Elkaïm. What was the writing process like?
VD: Me and Jérémie kept a journal during our son’s sickness. We used those notes as a blueprint for a lot of realistic scenes, for example, talks with the doctors in their offices, family meetings, etc. So there was a lot of material ready for the screenplay. Then we fleshed the story out bit by bit. It took us three months to complete the script, which I think was pretty quick.
HK: I noticed that the film employs a lot of voiceovers, and they’re done by both a woman and a man.
VD: Ah, yes. Actually, it was supposed to be only the man’s voice in there. But when the shooting finished, we had some problems in the editing room. We felt that the beginning of the film was too long, so we decided to use more voiceovers to condense the story preceding the major event. We wrote some paragraphs and our editor Pauline Gaillard lent her voice. It occurred to us afterwards that the double-voice approach is even better. Both of the child’s parents in the story are fighting the battle together, so it makes sense that the viewers are sort of hearing a conversation between them instead of a one-sided account. We’re very glad with how well it worked in the end.
HK: Your son was cured by the time you were making the movie. But was it still difficult for you to relive the experience?
VD: Once you’ve lived the situation, you can’t really live it again in the same sense or nature. Also, the screenplay is based on true events, but it’s also a fictional account. I see the movie as an object of itself, not a reflection, so the filmmaking process is a whole different thing for me.
HK: Had you and Jérémie broken up before the making of the film?
VD: Haha, yes. We were no longer domestic partners but we’re still a couple at work, you could say. We really enjoy working together and there wasn’t any awkwardness. Our creative partnership is very important to both of us.
HK: You’re the director, writer and star of this film. Which role did you find more challenging?
VD: I’d say being the director is the most difficult. You have so many factors to worry about, from the staff to the budget, and to keep the filming process on the scheduled pace was a real challenge for me. In comparison, writing and acting are much simpler.
HK: What kind of feedback have you gotten so far?
VD: There have been audience members that have had similar experiences telling me that they resonated with the film and were moved. One person in particular was this 18-year-old boy who shares the same name with my son, Gabriel, and has also been sick. He said he felt like this film was made for him and that really touched me.
HK: Are you working on any new project?
VD: I’m now in the editing process of my third feature film. It’s called “Hand in Hand.” Again it’s a love story and is co-written and acted in by me and Jérémie.