Deborah Francois, Jeremie Renier
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
|The latest film from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, "L'Enfant," captured the Golden Palm at Cannes 2005. It is destined to be a hard sell at the U.S. box office, not so much because it is a foreign film but because it doesn't spoon feed audiences with structured plot development, crystal clear characterizations and that all too familiar Americanized happy ending.
The film centers around Sonia (Deborah Francois) and Bruno (Jeremie Renier), a young couple who live, essentially, from moment to moment in nearly every way possible. We are introduced to them as Sonia is giving birth to Bruno's child. Bruno treats this moment as he does nearly every other moment...with only a passing interest unless it leads to an immediate, albeit short-term reward.
Of course, a young infant seldom offers much in the way of an immediate reward. It is cute, perhaps, and may offer fleeting moments of attention from others. However, a young infant cries, wets, poops and wants attention...constant attention. Bruno may have more control of his bodily fluids, however, he is not that far removed from this young infant.
It would be easy, almost lazy, to paint a picture of "bad Bruno" and horrible consequences. The Dardenne brothers don't do this in such a paint-by-numbers way. Bruno, for all his deepest flaws, isn't really an evil man. He appears, on whatever level it is possible for him, to truly love Sonia.
Bruno is sort of an Elephant Man of emotional maturity. It appears deformed, but deep within this outwardly appearing deformity there is something there...a spark? perhaps. a sign of hope? possible. The Dardennes do not make the choice for the audience...it is up to the audience to decide the truth of this man.
One can guess from the title of this film that much of the film centers around this young infant. Bruno, as one could guess, is a man who will do whatever it takes to survive financially...well, except for the all too obvious idea of working. He is, on a certain level, noble in his purpose...he will provide for the wants of his beloved Sonia, and for his own impulsive desires. Yet, he does so without complaint and without hesitation. So, when a friend reminds him that there are people who will pay for infants...well, you can guess what happens from there.
The scene where Bruno shares with Sonia what he has done is achingly painful. It is not so much that he has done anything to intentionally harm her...As played by Renier, it is clear that Bruno has done merely as he has always done. He has focused solely on the short-term reward, because that is ultimately the only way he knows how to survive. The look that Renier offers as Sonia reacts with astonished horror at what he has done...well, the look is one I cannot forget.
Francois, too, is mesmerizing as a young woman struggling to grow up, mature, find herself, find love and live right in a world that is very, very wrong.
The film moves along with Bruno trying to right his wrong. Is he attempting to do the "right thing?" Is he merely trying to make Sonia happy because he loves her? Or, is he simply trying to smooth over the situation because he needs Sonia happy to continue his con-games? All of these things are possible, and all of these things appear logical and even probable. Once again, the Dardennes do not decide...it is up to the audience to ultimately decide the truth of the young man who may, or may not, eventually grow up.
It is films like "L'Enfant" where I tend to differ from the average American moviegoer. I will, nearly 100% of the time, take a movie such as "L'Enfant" over the best that Hollywood has to offer. This isn't really "brave" filmmaking, but it is filmmaking that is mesmerizing and wonderful and intelligent and deeply, deeply authentic.
Hollywood has this horrid tendency to draw out paint-by-numbers character development. This allows the audience to say "Okay, this is the bad guy" and "Goodie, I can root for this guy" or "Hey, cool car!" Filmmakers such as the Dardenne brothers recognize that life doesn't actually work this smoothly...you and I are really the good guys and the bad guys. We are the people living every single day of our lives trying to do the right things, trying to survive and trying to find a semblance of human connection in a world that sometimes makes it nearly impossible.
"L'Enfant" doesn't necessarily make perfect sense, but how often does life really make perfect sense? I'm 40-years-old and still waiting for perfect sense. Somehow, I don't think it's going to happen.
"L'Enfant" further cements the reputation of the Dardennes as innovative and essential filmmakers. The film is hindered only by a minor weakness in creating that rich authenticity within their dialogue as well as the character development and the context of the story.
Ridiculously rated "R", "L'Enfant" would be a marvelous view for high school graduates and young adults. It reminded me of my own immaturity, my own short-term thinking, my own futile attempts at connection and, ultimately, my own personal responsibility for all of it.
Have you ever seen a newborn and just thought to yourself "WOW!" Some newborns just radiate beauty and wonder and they just nearly reduce you to tears. "L'Enfant" is a film much like these newborns...as I left the theatre I was thinking to myself "WOW!"
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic