Child’s Pose | Director Calin Peter Netzer | Score: 6.8
In a well-to-do Bucharest apartment, an older mother is complaining to her sister about her grown son. “If it was up to him, he wouldn’t call for ages,” she laments, swinging her cigarette to her lips. And later, speaking dismissively of her son’s girlfriend, a woman the mother refers to as a “creature,” she says “she’s got him by the tail like a little mouse.”
“Eh,” the sister replies, “I told you to have two children. Then you’d have been able to choose.”
But what starts as a bleakly comic examination of a controlling, hyper-clingy mother takes a very dark turn in Romanian director Calin Peter Netzer’s fascinating psychological study, winner of last year’s Berlin Film Festival, when Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), the son in question, is involved in a fatal car accident involving a young teenager on the freeway. The mother, Cornelia (Luminita Georghiu), a very successful and well-connected architect, has to summon all her powers of persuasion in order to keep her precious son — whom she refers to affectionately throughout the film as a “boy,” “child,” and a “baby,” despite his age — out of jail and his life intact.
Initially, Cornelia swoops in on the preliminary investigation and has her son change his sworn testimony from speeding on the freeway to going the legal limit. Then, with the help of her ex-husband, Relu (Florin Zamfirescu), she immediately sets upon pulling her influence amongst the elite government officials the estranged couple still counts as friends. But that is still not enough: In order to completely eviscerate the case, Relu tells her, they need for the eyewitness, who was driving alongside Barbu at the time of the accident, to change his testimony; and more difficult still, to convince the grieving family of the deceased child to not press charges. This she sets upon with grim determination and envelopes stuffed with Euros.
At first, the film focuses on the undue influence of the rich and connected in the tony upper echelons of Romanian society. Cornelia and Relu furiously pull as many strings as they can, and offer to bribe anyone — including the demanding eyewitness, who has figured out to the last dollar what they should offer him — who might stand in their way. But when it comes to the actual family, Cornelia is forced to pull out all the emotional stops, pleading and manipulating the stricken mother of the dead child as much as she dares — in the film’s most horrific emotional moment, she blurts out “Don’t destroy his life!” to the very woman whose life her son has utterly eviscerated.
And all this for a wholly unsympathetic young man who offers not the slightest bit of gratitude for his mother’s care, and/or interference. “Are you a complete imbecile?” he asks incredulously, after Cornelia has brought back the wrong variety of a medication he demanded she get him. Barbu is a hypochondriac slacker, a man largely incapable of taking responsibility for himself, his doting girlfriend (Llinca Goia), or any of the destruction left in his wake, whether this is the fault of his terribly indulgent parents, or just an inherent character flaw becomes immaterial in the aftermath of this tragedy.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
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