I Declare War
Written and directed by Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson
Starring Siam Yu, Gage Munroe, Michael Friend, et al
Opens May 10 at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Jason Lapeyre’s stunning film about little boys playing war isn’t for sissies. I Declare War is an adult story of betrayal and murderous carnality featuring tweens and adolescents in the adult roles, playing aggressive nasty warriors in a way that brings new meaning to the concept of men at war. The game is surprisingly vicious but sly humour and the occasional reminder that these are just kids simply adds to the weird fun of it all. It makes sense.
The young boys and a single girl battle each other in the woods with very real looking but fake Uzis, Glocks, rifles, and machine guns. The rules are the same as in real war; a strict code of conduct is followed for maximum fairness and difficulty. All of this is achieved in a tight, spare script delivered with haunting realism.
For instance, if a boy is “shot” by an enemy, he must lie on the ground motionless for a specific period of time, and then go home. If he’s wounded, he must lie still for a while and then he can resume play. They dare each other to eat dog poo and ponder the future without computers. One inventive child forms a fallen branch into a kind of shoulder Howitzer.
All of this happens within the framework of kids playing a game in the woods, kids with school and family problems, kids who need a juice and the occasional intruder who wanders in takes them briefly out of the game. The leaders strategize like veterans, one having watched Patton on endless reel.
The kids have been playing war games all summer they know their stuff. Military plans are struck and carried out. Insubordination won’t be tolerated, although twists and turns and switches in the balance of power are intriguing. The game’s set and practiced and it’s transfixing. You can break for a juice.
What’s different in the game their playing on this day is the addition of the sly Jesse, a girl, the first, who would rather fight than play with girls. She’s a threat because she’s an unknown factor and she could break the game up for good based on the burgeoning sexual stirrings in the warriors. They become increasingly ferocious. Lawlessness infects them and the stakes rise.The undercurrents of hatred in war are present, the idealism and compromise, the strategic, pre-emptive plotting, inflamed passions and hair trigger emotions and tempers underlying it. And yet these are small kids wearing braces. The effect is stunning and surprising.