MIFF Next Gen Review: I Declare War

0 Comments 24 July 2013

In today’s review for the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Next Gen program, OSCAR LUCA is impressed by the brilliant I Declare War.

When 12-year-old PK plays the not-entirely-innocent game of War with his friends, he takes it seriously. He knows the history and strategy of warfare. He is willing to make sacrifices to win. He is the undefeated champion of the game. That is, until an arguably psychotic member of the opposing force stages a military coup and takes PK’s best friend and right-hand man, Kwon, prisoner…

The rules of the game are fairly simple: each team has one general, who picks his team from the various other kids who’ve agreed to play. The general picks a base, where he keeps his team’s flag in a makeshift fort. Here the flag must remain for the length of the match, as you are not allowed to move your base or your flag. The game ends when one team kills the other team’s general, takes their flag, and safely returns it to their base.

This 91-minute film by Canadian directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson follows each combatant in this particular game and their individual path to victory (or otherwise), each one with their own set of reasons and motivations behind their actions and the role they play in the game. Each character has their individual story, all just as interesting and with as much depth as the others.

But one of the most captivating is Jess, the sole girl in the game, who joins the war to get the attention of PK’s opposition’s leader, Quinn. After Quinn is overthrown by his second in command, Skinner — who instates a brutal regime void of any strategy or tactics, much to Jess’s distaste — Jess aims to win the war on her own. She uses her feminine wiles to manipulate the boys into doing what she wants, even pitting two of her own team mates against each other (by flirting with one and ignoring the other) so she can take care of the enemy.

What really stood out to me about I Declare War is the way the film seamlessly blends imagination and reality. In one shot, a kid will be carrying a bundle of sticks held together by string, but the second the shot changes he’s brandishing a submachine gun, fully prepared to gun down an enemy. After taking someone out with their ‘weapon’, their enemy will be paralyzed until they count to “ten steamboats”, after which they can stand back up – but if they are hit with a grenade, which in reality is a water balloon filled with red paint, they are dead and they must go home. These transitions between the minds of the kids and the eyes of the omniscient viewer are pulled off perfectly, and only very rarely distract from the flow of the film.

It isn’t just the weapons that blend perfectly either. The film masterfully combines pre-teen mannerisms with warzone slang. In the middle of every encounter you hear military code and orders being barked amongst the soldiers, with screams of “I NEED BACKUP” and “SOMEBODY TAKE THAT MOTHERF***ING SNIPER OUT”, but every now and then you also hear anguished shouts of “HEY MAN STOP CHEATING I TOTALLY SHOT YOU!”

When not discussing the war, the dialogue between characters achieves a high degree of realism — something rarely heard in films focused on anyone below 18 but old enough to form a sentence. Particularly impressive is the way the filmmakers portray the façade kids around this age generally use to impress their friends, such as when the children parade around a packet of cigarettes, still in the wrapping, for which no one seems to have a lighter.

The young actors do a brilliant job at executing the script too. Practically every line in the film is delivered naturally and confidently, and the conversations flow smoothly. Each character has their own attitude and sense of individuality, and although there isn’t a huge amount of time to develop the characters, we start to see their hidden nature emerging — reflected in their voice, through pace and tone, and in their body language, which often consists of wild hand gestures, awkward stand-stills and fearful trembling.

Overall I Declare War is a superb film, definitely worth the ticket price. It uses a variety of highly detailed characters to compare the lives of children and their friendships with life in a brutal warzone, and never loses its sense of enjoyment in the non-repetitive, high-intensity battle scenes. It also allows us to see into the magical and vibrant world that is a child’s imagination. In the end Kwon learns a valuable lesson about his friendship with PK — a moral that holds its brilliance in not being spelt out for us in bright flashing neon lights, yet not being so subtle to be easily missed. It’s a lesson that many people, not just pre-teen role players, can benefit from.

I Declare War screens at MIFF on July 27 and August 3. Visit for more information.

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This post was written by who has written 5 posts on The Signal Express.

Hey there. Names Oscar. Friends call me Ocky. I'm a 16 year old aspiring writer from the good ol' suburb of Northcote. I have a passion for all things music, film, street art, video games and comic books. Well, maybe not ALL things. Some things. Ok. Barely any things. But before I get off on a tangent about the mainstream, a topic that I can rant about for years (for either side, mind you), my hobbies include playing video games, watching television (I have an eternal love for Firefly, Futurama, Project Runway, Archer, Metalocalypse, ATHF, Family Guy, Buffy, Adventure Time, Regular Show, Skins, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Pokemon, Freaks and Geeks and a whole lot more), arguing to death things I either care little about or am utterly passionate about, buying clothes, drinking coffee, reading magazines/comics (the last two probably simultaneously) and wasting my youth attached to the black hole known as the Internet.

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