Child’s Pose a Prescient Evisceration of Societal Privilege
In her eyes, steely-eyed architect Cornelia Keneres (Luminita Gheorghiu) has been a wonderful mother, gifting her son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) all he could have wanted. This makes their estrangement all the more upsetting. Why does he distance himself from her? What could she ever have done to deserve this treatment? Her love has been omnipresent, all-encompassing, and as such he should feel himself lucky to have had the good fortune to have someone like her raising him.
There is an accident. Barbu has struck and killed a child while recklessly driving in a drunken fugue. All signs point to his guilt but Cornelia will not hear of it. Her son comes from wealth and privilege while the same cannot be said for the working class youngster who has tragically died. This ferocious mother will stop at nothing to prove her beloved Barbu is innocent of these crimes; those thinking of stopping her doing so at their own immediate peril.
There is a gritty urgency to Romanian import Child’s Pose that is undeniable. The winner of the Golden Bear at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, this raw, unsettling descent into unrelenting, murderously smothering motherly love is a visceral saga of madness and mayhem that turned my stomach while at the same time it stirred my intellect to unimaginable heights. It is a methodic, highly disciplined drama that rips the heart out while at the same time exploring shockingly prophetic themes and ideas, the whole movie ultimately a stinging evisceration of class mores and extremes taking the bourgeois ethos of excess unsullied and unchained to it absolute breaking point.
Gheorghiu is incredible. In virtually every scene she saunters through the film with sophisticatedly carnivorous grace, no move out of character, no facial tick or breathless sigh not fully thought out before it is delivered. She is a predator hunting her prey completely clueless as to why so much of the rest of the world, including her son, does not find her company pleasant let alone something to actively seek out, embracing her perceived place of privilege as a societal, maybe even genetic, fact more than it is something she has earned through hard work and sacrifice.
With all that being so, what Gheorghiu manages to accomplish then is made all the more incredible. Why? Cornelia is so dislikable, so infuriating, such a creature of depraved indifference who believes herself superior to just about everyone around her, spending time with the lady isn’t exactly what one normally would associate with anything close to fun. Yet, things being as they are, there was never a second where I wanted to turn my eyes away from her or wanted to stop watching the movie. Her performance is magnetic in ways that are borderline undefinable, each facet and nuance of her portrayal intimately ascertained brilliance revealing Cornelia’s inner workings with salient, invigorating clarity.
Director Calin Peter Netzer, co-writing the script with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu scribe Razvan Radulescu, shows himself to be a major talent worth keeping track of. No aspect of the film feels disconnected from any other part, the camerawork, sound design and editing all working in remarkable tandem. He handles his actors with confidence, and even when the story takes a decidedly nasty and twisted turn somehow the filmmaker maintains a level of brittle, earthshattering realism that’s always abhorrently invigorating.
Child’s Pose isn’t a nice movie or an easy story to stomach, stripping its characters bare showcasing them as they nakedly are for both good and for bad. It doesn’t mince words and it certainly doesn’t play nice, everything culminating in ways that are as disturbing as they are almost, sadly, preordained. Yet the movie remains a masterful exercise in societal commentary that feels as prescient and precise as anything I can recall of recent vintage, all of it anchored by a performance from the exquisite Gheorghiu that’s as authentic as it is dazzling. Watch at once.
Film Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle