L'Enfant (The Child)
Having released four masterpieces consecutively, a feat that few filmmakers in the history of cinema could claim to match, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have a great deal to teach moviemakers and audiences alike.
Their latest, L'Enfant (The Child), is a perfect example of their strengths, not just in its craft, but in its profoundly spiritual storytelling. Here are just a few of its virtues:
- It's a story about conscience, responsibility, and family.
- It betrays no preaching, politicizing, or prejudice, but sticks to artful observation, respecting the viewer's intelligence and ability to discern its themes.
- The vision of human behavior is so authentic and convincing, it often feels like a hidden-camera documentary.
- Nothing is heavy-handed, sentimental, or gratuitous—in each scene, everything belongs and contributes to what the film can mean.
- The two central characters, Bruno and Sonia, are played by supremely talented young actors—Jérémie Renier and Déborah François. But they're not recognizable celebrities for most moviegoers, which makes us concentrate on their characters without distraction.
- The camerawork is effortlessly agile and clever, and yet it does not draw attention to itself.
- It's fast-paced, intense, and wraps up with an unforgettable conclusion.
- Did I mention the nerve-wracking car chase?
Yes, L'Enfant is one of the most artful and memorable films you'll see this year. That should come as no surprise, since it won the highest honor—the Palme d'Or—at the Cannes Film Festival. What's even more amazing is that the filmmakers have won Cannes prizes for three films in a row: Rosetta (1996), Le Fils (The Son) (2004), and now this project.
The bad news is that most Americans will never see it. It won't play at the shopping mall cineplexes, which tend to limit their menu to movies marketed by major American studios. And when it arrives on DVD, it won't have the promotional budget to take up a full row on the shelf at Blockbuster. So, if it comes to your town, take the time to drive out to an arthouse theater to see it, or to watch carefully for its eventual availability at quality video stores.
Here's how it starts:
Sonia (François) has just been released from the hospital with Jimmy, her newborn baby. Back at her apartment, she finds herself locked out. Her boyfriend, Bruno (Renier), has sublet it to some renters. Feeling frustrated and alone, she goes looking for him … and finds him up to his usual tricks—begging and thieving.
Bruno doesn't seem too interested in the baby, but he's glad that Sonia's free at last. To celebrate, he buys her an expensive present. (Money, he seems to believe, is how you buy happiness.) They're both poor and, now, they're both homeless, so he checks them into a shelter. But it's only a short while before he's back out on the town, wheeling and dealing for more cash.
The next day, while Sonia's standing in line for some financial help, Bruno goes for a walk. And what he does next will astonish you, even if you already know it's coming.