“Child’s Pose” – A Problem Forever [MOVIE REVIEW]
“Child’s Pose,” Romania’s submission for the foreign language Oscar, is an enigmatic film both from the standpoint of the meaning of its title and for what the director was trying to convey. An award winner at last year’s Berlin Film Festival for the director, Calin Peter Netzer, “Child’s Pose” is, ostensibly, the story of the lengths an obsessive mother would go to in order to keep her son from going to jail. I say ostensibly because clearly Netzer is trying, with varied degrees of success, to paint a larger picture and pose a bigger issue. Clearly that “pose” has me mystified as Netzer changes directions too many times to present any kind of unified theme.
Cornelia Keneres is a sixty-something woman who is clearly as well off as she is well-connected. The power in her household, she brooks no opposition and knows who to go to for whatever she needs. Romania, one of the more corrupt countries in the Eastern bloc, a statement that is akin to saying “that man is dead” as opposed to “that man is very dead,” is a place where everyone and everything can be bought.
If Cornelia has a weak spot, it is her cherished son Barbu who has approached his life without GPS and is mired in a cycle of bad decisions and torpor. Indecisive about most things, he does, however, have strong feelings about his mother and none of them are good. He lives with a woman his mother disapproves of (although it’s obvious she would never approve of anyone that he might choose) and has cut off all communication with her. Her obsessive meddling has suffocated him to the extent of loathing and none of her machinations have cracked his brick wall of rejection. Nothing, that is, until his reckless driving results in his arrest for manslaughter.
But even under these circumstances he does not ask for her help. Ready to face the consequences of his act, his mother intervenes in every way possible with a checklist of bribes, apologies and favors all designed to get the charges dismissed. On the one hand her actions are those of a mother trying to protect her son from himself; on the other hand they are also those of a harridan seizing her golden opportunity to once again gain entry and control all aspects of her son’s life.
Throughout most of the film, Netzer effectively paints Cornelia as a monster. She sends her maid to spy on her son; she changes her son’s written statement to the police; she breaks into his apartment. She is the mother of your nightmares, an altogether familiar character. It would be easy to assume that Barbu’s indolence is a reaction against his mother but because there is so little development to his character it is up to the audience to fill in the blanks. More troubling, however, is that no one, other than the mother of the teenage victim, engenders any sympathy. Cornelia is a bitch, Barbu is without discernable personality, his father is weak, the witness to the accident actually caused the accident, the police are incorruptible until they are corrupt, and almost everyone is entirely self-serving. This might have worked if Netzer hadn’t decided to humanize Cornelia and turn her from Medusa into Mother Theresa at the end when she meets with the mother of the victim, at which point we are to believe that there is solidarity between these women because of their love for their sons. And it is here where a hard edged unpleasant portrayal becomes drivel.
Had this been a film about living in a corrupt society or even just as advertised – the lengths to which a mother would go to save her son – then structure, story and character development might have united and cohered. The one mesmerizing scene, between Cornelia and Dinu, the other driver, shows the promise of what the film could have been. Against Barbu’s wishes, Cornelia meets with the other witness to the accident, the man driving the car that Barbu was trying to pass on the highway when the child inexplicably decided to run across the road. Dinu is willing to change his statement about how fast he was driving for the sum of 80,000 Euros. Smirking he talks of how he sped up as Barbu was passing him. He saw that the child was trying to cross the freeway and unapologetically acknowledges that he was blocking Barbu’s view. Had Barbu’s car been able to accelerate faster or had he defensively slowed when he realized that he wouldn’t be able to pass then he would have missed the child. The attempt to subvert justice for the child’s family, the extortion and the lack of compassion on the parts of both monstrous personalities discussing business at a table in a generic mall was chilling and shone a light on the kinds of all pervasive corruption and manipulation that goes on day after day is what the film could have explored. Unfortunately it didn’t.
Luminita Gheorghiu, Cornelia, is a rightly renowned actress in Romania, but she plays an over-the-top role with too little nuance. Her smother love is about control throughout most of the movie until suddenly it’s about mother love. I’m sure she’s been better served in her other films. Bogdan Dumitrache, Barbu, is given little more to do than look sullen, and 90 minutes of sullen is quite wearing. Vlad Ivanov has one compelling scene as Dinu, after which his character is dropped, never to be seen again. The supporting cast does reasonably well, although they seem to be expository figures meant to explain background. There is, ultimately, little to recommend this film.
In Romanian with English subtitles, “A Child’s Pose” opens on Friday February 21 at the Nuart.