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After Paulina Garcia in the Chilean film Gloria, and waiting for Catherine Deneuve to appear in On My Way, Berlin competition serves up another fine tribute to a powerful actress, Luminita Gheorghiu, playing a middle-aged Romanian woman and member of the ruling class. As watchable as daytime drama, Child’s Pose is an on-target, tragi-comic portrait of a domineering mother who sees a chance to regain control over her adult son when he faces manslaughter charges for reckless driving. Though dramatically a little too pat for comfort, the screenplay by Razvan Radulescu and director Calin Peter Netzer is admirably handled, with wicked moments of humor balancing out a truly dramatic finale. The Beta Cinema release should have little problem flowing into the niches carved out by quality Romanian films in recent years.
More than anything else, it is Gheorghiu’s un-self-conscious, realistic character study of the emotional tyrant Cornelia that keeps the engine running on a compactly written drama. It opens in mid-stream during a smoky lament the attractive blonde Cornelia is making to her best friend (or possibly sister) Ruta, about how Barbu has been ignoring her for months and even abusing her verbally and pushing her out of the car. Suddenly it becomes apparent she’s not talking about a lover, but her grown son, and the scene turns to humor.
Though the p.o.v. remains Cornelia’s throughout the film, the viewer can’t help but sympathize with everyone else in her family. She pries info about Barbu’s private life out of the maid, thus learning that his live-in girlfriend Carmen is bringing her young daughter to live with them. “Raising other people’s offspring” is how mamma puts it.
Just as gracefully as Cornelia’s psyche is exposed through the dialogue, her glittering social world is neatly sketched in a high society party where the nomenclature celebrates her birthday. “I’m 30 but I look 60 – just kidding,” as she likes to say. She’s also an inveterate liar, making excuses about Barbu’s absence to keep up appearances.
She is watching a classy opera rehearsal when Ruta informs her there’s been an accident. Her son has run over a child and killed him. Without a second’s thought the two women shift gears to crisis mode and take off for an outlying police station, where Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) is waiting to sign a statement and be tested for alcohol. Their mission is to do whatever it takes to keep him from being prosecuted and serving a three-to-15 year sentence for manslaughter.
The accident scene is ugly. The 14-year-old boy was hit head-on while crossing the highway; Barbu was speeding near the exit ramp as he attempted to pass another car. The boy’s relatives are poor and very angry. In the neon-lit police station, Cornelia first accuses the police of “ganging up on my baby,” then makes her connections count; the young police chief is already receiving phone calls from people in high places. Later, his own integrity disintegrates in exchange for a well-timed favor.
In a related scene that illustrates how wide-spread the corruption is, Cornelia meets with a witness who is savvier than she is about how much changing his statement is worth, balanced against a prison term. It is Cornelia’s attitude, however, that most undercuts sympathy for what she’s trying to do. The suspicion is always there that her real goal is to get her son back where she wants him. On a spying visit to his apartment, she calmly goes through his drawers, nosier than any detective; but he has developed strong defenses against her emotional blackmail after all these years, and squirms out of the trap.
Though diffident, Carmen (Ilinca Goia) makes a long, intimate confession to Cornelia, a prelude to the teary final scene in which the two women confront the dead boy’s parents. The dramatic resolution is concise and convincing.
Netzer, who has come up through the fest circuit with his earlier features Maria and Medal of Honor, is warm and confident directing the stunning performance of Gheorghiu, who played the mother in Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. It is fascinating to watch how she cold-bloodedly negotiates human relations, and even plays the final emotional scene in a way that doesn’t negate her basic character, but moves it forward.
As the son, Dumitrache has a lot less screen time in which to complete a similar character arc demanded by the script, yet the way he is shot, from Cornelia’s perspective in a rear-view car mirror, erases the built-in banality of the moment and makes it work.
The hand-held camerawork never stops nervously moving, giving the film more of a budget look than it perhaps needed. Though the use of music is limited, Gianna Nannini’s joyful song “Meravigliosa creatura” is used twice to suggest a brighter future.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition), Feb. 11, 2012.
Production company: Parada Film
Co-Production: Hai-Hui Entertainment
Cast: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Florin Zamfirescu, Ilinca Goia
Director: Calin Peter Netzer
Screenwriters: Razvan Radulescu, Calin Peter Netzer
Producers: Calin Peter Netzer, Ada Solomon
Co-producer: Oana Giurgiu
Director of photography: Andrei Butica
Production designer: Malina Ionescu
Costumes: Irina Marinescu
Editor: Dana Lucretia Bunescu
Sales Agent: Beta Cinema
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