Judge Daryl Loomis doesn't know how he passes for a teenager, but he sure does cash in on it.
How far will a mother go to protect her child?
I don't think there's a more exciting place for modern filmmaking than Romania. There has to be a dud out there somewhere, but I have yet to see one. Instead, movie after movie, at least those that have made it over here, have been fascinating experiences, full of the life and frustration that has emerged in the country since the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989. Of course, it took a while for this new film industry to burgeon. Since then, though, we have seen the likes of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, 12:08 East of Bucharest, Police, Adjective, and Aurora just to name a few masterpieces. Now, I'm thrilled all over again by another subtly brilliant work from director Calin Peter Netzer (Maria), Romania's entry for Best Foreign Film at the 86th Academy Awards, the unbelievable Child's Pose.
Facts of the Case
Well-to-do architect Cornelia Keneres (Luminita Gheorghiu, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) has just been told that her doofus 30-something son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache, The Way I Spent the End of the World) has hit a young boy with his car, killing him instantly. Cornelia, who has always smothered Barbu, now goes into overdrive, using all her resources, both monetary and bureaucratic, to try to undo what he has done. In spite of a lifetime of rejection and hate from him, she is undaunted in her attempts to spare him from answering for his crime.
These new Romanian are nothing if not slow, but they're also perfectly measured and never plodding. There is a confidence in Child's Pose that is uncanny, especially for a director on only his third film. Netzer has built a story with an incredible balance between drama and thriller that describes the corruption of the post-Ceauşescu Romanian upper-class. While it's perfectly understandable why Cornelia would want to help her son, even if it might be unjust to do so, the fact that she's so readily able to navigate the system using her money and connections brightly illuminates the difference between the haves and have-nots in that country. What justice is there for the family of the dead child, when a few simple payouts mean a continued charmed life for Barbu, regardless of his spoiled and bratty attitude toward his family and, really, everything around him.
Of course, we never actually find out whether Barbu is actually charged with any crime here; Netzer makes things far more ambiguous than that. The inference is that he won't but, Child's Pose is more concerned with humanity or lack thereof than it is about this specific case. Cornelia, by nearly any measure, is an awful person, but there's also no doubt that her love for and disappointment in her son knows no bounds. She'll do anything to get him out of this jam, from bribery to coercion to personal humiliation, all with neither hesitation on her part or gratitude on the part of her son.
The entirety of Child's Pose belongs to Luminita Gheorghiu, who puts in a singularly incredible performance. She begins as an absolutely terrible person, seemingly a monster that can't help but smother her son. It's no wonder he's so violently resistant to her. She doesn't fundamentally change during the course of the film, but very slowly, it becomes clear that, while far from perfect, she is a human being. This is especially apparent during the final couple of scenes, when her machinations bring her to the victim's family, where we see that her motivations are not totally selfish, but indeed actually out of love and fear for her son.
Netzer is very deliberate in his storytelling, but every moment makes sense. He lets Gheorghiu's performance speak for itself and makes use of the handheld camera to give a sense of realism and immediacy to the movie. That realism also comes through in the complete lack of music. We're left with just the dialog, so thank goodness it's so strong. But as the movie comes to its emotional and resonant conclusion, we finally do get some music over the end credits. It's a song by Italian folk artist Gianna Nannini called "Meravigliosa creatura," and it's a powerful way to close out the movie. I'd never heard the song before, but after what I had just seen, it was something that brought chills to my skin and a lump in my throat. This is an outstanding piece of filmmaking and I can't sing its praises more highly.
Zeitgeist Films has brought Child's Pose to market with an adequate DVD release. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks as good as can be expected from a standard definition transfer, with realistic, natural colors, fairly deep black levels, and an average level of detail. The sound is a much more minimal affair, with surround and stereo tracks that sound pretty much identical. There's a little bit in the rear channels on the surround track, but with no score or sound effects, it's mostly focused on the dialog at the front end.
Only a couple of extras are presented on the disc. The first is an eight minute deleted scene that adds a little color, but isn't crucial to the story by any means. The second is an insubstantial making-of featurette that runs about fifteen minutes. It's standard stuff, but does display one of the nicest craft services tables I've ever seen. Lemons with caviar? That's way better than bologna sandwiches I'm used to. The disc closes out with a trailer.
Simply put, Child's Pose is a tremendous film. It's not my favorite of this Romanian New Wave, that honor still belongs to Police, Adjective. With the truly standout performance from Luminita Gheorghiu and a story that is next to perfect, it comes pretty darn close. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
• Deleted Scene
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