L’Enfant

(The Child)

Film Review

 

The team of Belgian brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, directors of L’Enfant have brought to the screen a picture that rivals all others in the genre of realistic portrayal.  It is difficult for any parent to watch this film, and it was for me as a father.  The confused, callous, unraveling life of its star, Bruno, (Jérémie Reiner) is beyond belief.  His lover Sonia (Déborah François) as a teenage mother evokes a sense of a child rearing a child.  What this film engenders to the viewer is a raw emotional response.  It tears at your human heart.  We all, with the exception of the clinically psychotic, love infants.  We all would never cause harm to a child.  This instinctual drive to protect an infant is what makes this film disturb you.

 

Directors Dardenne make use of a style that is realistic and documentary.  They don’t begin with a musical theme or insert musical interludes during the picture and nor does it end with a musical interpretation.  To not use music at all in a film is rare; its use has become standard to set a movie's theme and tone.  There are no voice-overs in this film either.  It all happens, as it happens.  And what happens doesn’t just offend your moral values, but makes you feel deeply for the star of the film.  The star can’t talk, or act or be anything but what it is: a child, a child most innocent.  The use of a real baby gives viewers an increased sense of fearful anxiety.  You feel most for the participant in this drama that does nothing to make you feel for it.  He can’t speak or even act, yet the directors show the child in all its helplessness, in public scenes that will have you wanting to go to him and protect him from his heartless father.  Likewise, your emotions for Bruno are opposite.  His lack of paternal love and dispassionate decision to sell his flesh and blood, enrages you, as it did his girlfriend Sonia.  But, if we look deeper at Bruno, as a desperate homeless, teenager, living on his wits, we are bound to soften our disdain for him.  The Dardennes’ are illustrating with chilling effect, how teenagers have no idea of what parenthood really means.  We see the two lovers behaving throughout the film like the adolescents they are: frolicking, laughing, and chasing one another in play.  We feel as we watch their behavior, these kids have no business raising a child, even if it is their own.  It seems that for the girlfriend, her infant is little more than a living doll, and for the father, a means to continue his marginal existence.  For Bruno, they could make a child, sell him, and then make another.  The directors don’t moralize; they simply show you what is happening.  Yet, you are bound to wonder how such persons could come to be as they are.  The Dardennes leave the moral judging to us.

 

Sonia though immature has the strong maternal instinct we expect of a mother.  After Bruno informs her he sold the infant, she scorns him and reports his crime to the police.  She collapses and is hospitalized.  Bruno is forced to retrieve Jimmy (the English nickname they’ve chosen for the infant), from a criminal adoption gang he sold it to.  The sequences in which he reacquires the infant are the most tense of the film. 

 

While the Dardennes don’t preach to us with narrative voice-overs or mood setting musical interpretations of the film’s action, they do show us other corrupting influences upon these kids.  The child adoption gang is an evil element contributing to the danger the infant faces.  Bruno’s mother appears in a small role that shows he was not reared by a loving, compassionate parent.  The child thieves that Bruno teams with to commit robberies are just as cynical and unfeeling about their life as Bruno is toward his.  None of the persons surrounding Bruno or Sonia have good intentions for them or their child.

 

The conclusion of this film will leave you feeling an odd sense of hope for these two.  It’s acted beautifully without dialogue.  And there need not be, after what has happened in the preceding scenes.  One of the few times I didn’t finding crying distasteful in film was at the conclusion of this one.

 

Ken Wais 1/3/09

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Cinematic Information

 

Title:

L’Enfant (The Child)

Directors:

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Year:

2005

Principal Actors

 

Sonia:

Déborah François

Bruno:

Jérémie Reiner

Steve:

Jérémie Segard

Writers:

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Awards:

Palme D’Or at Cannes

 

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