L’Enfant

As I mentioned in an earlier post I am a latecomer to the Dardennes’ Brothers work. L’Enfant (The Child) is just my second encounter with them. Immediately the differences from my previous viewing are clear: They dispense with the shaky camera and back-of-the-head focus and deliberately slow build of The Son and replace them with more professional looking tracking shots and, gasp, attractive actors! Our immediate introduction to a couple reminded me of nothing more than if Seberg hadn’t turned in Belmondo in A Bout de Souffle but rather had seen their relationship through and started a family. These are two attractive and adventurous drifters who clearly have no idea that the world can be just as cruel and dangerous as they are.

L’Enfant is one of those films that whose heavy baggage of almost universal acclaim lead to my distinct disappointment. A Palm d’or at Cannes doesn’t make something an unqualified masterpiece. However at the very least, if you’re going to make the film about the moral consequences of selling a newborn on the black market you should at least make that child more than a prop. Jeremie Renier’s Bruno carries the child through city streets, on busses and into the hands of a baby broker with nary a peep, poop or demand of food. A Katie Kisses toy is higher maintenence than this bundle of pure maguffin. I found it difficult to experience the true level of emotional outrage at Renier’s acts due to the fact that I had a hard time thinking of the thing inside that blue parka as an actual child and not just a lump of plastic. The Dardennes would have done well to add in a few scenes of realistic physical attention and closeness between parent and child.

My lack of engagement with the primary conflict of the film is especially unfortunate in light of the impressively nuanced and expressive performance of Renier whose face and slump betrays his crisis of conscience as he waits in the adjacent room as his child lays on his coat on the other side of the wall as the stranger comes to take the bundle away. If the parcel came off as anything but a bundle perhaps my emotional response would have been of the level that the Dardennes had designed.

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