October 16, 2005

L’Enfant (The Child)

Reviewed by Martin Tsai at the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival

While some contemporary realist masters such as Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, et al. have managed to branch out without necessarily compromising their auteurist integrity, others like Erick Zonca and the Dardenne brothers are still fervently practicing Bressonism. If it’s not broken, why fix it? As J. Hoberman of The Village Voice pointed out, the Dardennes’ two Palme d’Or winners – 1999’s Rosetta and this year’s The Child – both pay homage to Robert Bresson.

Their latest involves the puerile and unscrupulous Bruno (Jérémie Renier), who enlists two juveniles to commit petty thefts for him, sublets the apartment belonging to his girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François) while she’s in labour, and schemes to sell their newborn son for a quick buck. When Sonia finds out about this and calls the cops on him, Bruno attempts to retrieve the child to make peace. Yet he unwittingly finds himself in deeper trouble.

The film is a respectable and moderate achievement, but it doesn’t reach the psychological dimension of the Dardenne’s previous work, The Son. Its theme of black-market infant trading brings to mind Jan Hrebejk’s Up and Down, but The Child completely underwhelms by comparison for its lack of insightful social and political implications. Since even Cahiers du cinéma suggested that it lacks innovation, in retrospect Cronenberg, Hanake and Hou deserved this year’s top prize at Cannes much more.

© Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.