Child, The (L'Enfant)Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 06/20/06 03:33:54
(Worth A Look)
As you watch the first reel of the Cannes Palme d’Or winner from 2005, “L’Enfant,” you think you know who the title character is, but you’re wrong.You’ll think he’s Jimmy, the baby who has just been born to Bruno and Sonia (Jeremie Renier and Deborah Francois). Bruno and Sonia are twenty-somethings, free spirits who live hand-to-mouth, in a cheap apartment when they have money for the rent and in a shack under a bridge when they don’t. Either situation is fine with them. “Only suckers work,” Bruno says to Sonia. When he comes into some cash, usually by theft or panhandling, he sees no reason to hang on to it.
Fourteen-year old Steve (Jeremie Segard) works for Bruno, who plays the immature Fagin to Steve’s Artful Dodger. Bruno fences stolen cameras and pays Steve 10 percent of whatever he gets.
If not a good life, it’s a living. Everything stops for Bruno and Sonia to horse around, chasing each other across the park, breaking into a fit of giggles on a whim. Money that should go for food goes for matching jackets. Bruno rents a convertible for a day just because he thinks it would be cool to drive a convertible.
But the baby presents a threat to Bruno’s life of irresponsibility so, behind Sonia’s back, he sells the infant on the black market to gangsters who will re-sell him to a couple desperate to adopt. When she finds out, Sonia collapses and Bruno rushes her to the emergency room. She threatens to call in the cops so Bruno returns the money and reclaims the baby.
And that’s when his problems really begin and he discovers that he is suddenly the man in charge who bears responsibility for his child and his youthful companions in crime.
This French/Belgian co-production, written and directed by the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, is a throwback to the days of the New Wave. Beniot Dervaux’ cinematography is unsparing as it captures the bleakness of life on the streets. I was reminded at first of Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and then of Zola’s merciless reportage of the existence of those people we see loafing in the park and wandering aimlessly along the sidewalks and to whom we never give a thought.
So yes, the film does spring from the experimental fiction of the late 19th century as filtered through a similar impulse to record reality on film in post-war Europe. Following Bruno’s road to inevitable failure makes you feel something like a filmmaker shooting a nature documentary. You film an ailing animal you know is about to get killed and eaten, and yet you don’t put down the camera to rush to the rescue. You just watch fate take its course.
Someone has said that “L’Enfant” is about children having children, but I think all three of the main characters, plus Jimmy, are the same child at various stages of development. We don’t watch a gradual collapse into evil. Bruno isn’t a bad guy, any more than a child who doesn’t know any better than to pull wings off of flies is bad. If he were evil, maybe someone would step in to help him.It’s just that until he picks your pocket and runs away, he’s invisible.
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