Child’s Pose – Călin Peter Netzer and oppressive mother regimes. (SFF Film Review)

I saw Child’s Pose 12 months ago at the Sydney Film Festival, but seeing as it is about to screen in Australia, I thought I would bring the review back to above the fold.

This is an excellent film.

 

Child’s Pose is currently in competition at the Sydney Film Festival. It has previously won the Golden Bear(Best Film) at the Berlin Film Festival.  You can purchase your tickets here.

The Romanian new wave is almost a decade old now and perhaps one of the problems of new-wave-age is the repetition of themes and ideas.  Marked by extremely high quality, analysis of the Ceauşescu totalitarian regime and the countries post Ceauşescu experience, it seems by the time we get to Child’s Pose that the themes are starting to repeat themselves.

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This is not to say that Child’s Pose (Pozitia Copilului) doesn’t pack a punch, its more that given it’s place at almost a decade since 2004 and the short film Canne’s win for Traffic, the themes of the corrupt wealth and disdain for the working classes is getting a little thin on freshness. This is Călin Peter Netzer’s third film, after his prize winning Maria and his 2009 second feature Medal of Honour. Child’s Pose follows the unassigned “rules” of the Romanian New Wave in that it is minimalist in setting and script, takes place over a few days focusing on a particular events in the characters life, involves black humor and political commentary.

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Where many of the new wave films have been set in the 80’s, Child’s Pose takes up a contemporary setting revealing a Romania trapped by a privileged elite and its stranglehold over police and legal system happy to feed off its outstretched hand. Cornelia (the luminous Luminita Gheorghiu) is complaining to her sister about her son and the way he shuns her. We immediately know something is up, because she has bruises on her arm, but her sister shrugs it off with a warning that Cornelia should not be so overbearing. She exhorts her to let him go and just wait to hear from him – he will come back when he is ready.  To shine a light on the way relationships are set up in wealthy contemporary Romania, and the depth of the corruption, Cornelia’s sister reminds her that she should have had two children so she “could have a choice”. As we watch Cornelia at her birthday party, lying about where her son is and blithely talking to her friends about escaping consequences (when discussing a malpractice suit the parties are quoted as saying yes he did it but he didn’t mean to do it.) by using their connections, we see her supreme confidence as she moves in the circles she calls her own.

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However it is not till her son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) is involved in a car accident where he kills the young son of a working class man that we witness the full extent of what this privilege and corruption can mean in present day Romania. Cornelia will move immediately into action, doing everything she can from bullying to bribing in order to make sure her son does not have to face the consequences of his actions. However this is not the only chilling aspect of the film. Cornelia herself is a dominating mother figure, jealous of her sons lovers, and desperate to control him. Just as she will use all her connections to ensure his safety, she will use all her tricks to get her son close to her, never pausing to consider the consequences of her own actions. She is a bull in an emotional china shop, stomping over, even her son, in order to get closer to him.

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Her son’s response to this is a pathetic desperation, half to flee, half to crawl back into the womb, the mothers suffocating love steeling all his self reliance and identity.  He has his own watered down morality, his own blindness and his own inappropriate feelings of absolution. He is the victim who thinks because he suffers he need show no compassion or universal empathy with anyone else. Mother and son feed off each other in a turgid neurotic swirl, his OCD cleanliness and fear of germs the perfect counterpoint to her filthy emotional blackmailing.

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This is Netzer’s contemporary Romania, suffocating under the weight of the communist elite who still benefit from democracy as if the politics were never going to make a real difference any how. Corruption is automated; culture is automated. Cornelia buys Barbu books to read by Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel laureate put on trial for his comments about the Armenian genocide and Herta Muller, the Romanian Nobel laureate famous for her novels that depict graphic violent behavior towards German immigrants in Romania under the Ceauşescu regime. Both writers works – culturally important and with much to say about Cornelia’s behavior, are given to her son in a clumsy attempt to “show off” her cultural sophistication and steer a bias toward her. Her son, a symbol of crushed, contemporary Romania, will read neither.

A still from Child's Pose, which won top prize at the Berlin film festival

The corruption in the film is depicted with startling frankness and sophistication and without any hint of fear or reprisal. Cornelia can’t reach her son, but like the agility of the wealthy to manipulate every system, as soon as he has an accident, she clicks into gear, using her “talents” to take advantage of her sons need. In an astonishing scene that I didn’t fully understand on one viewing, she meets with the witness of the accident and one of the most cynical displays of grand master maneuvering takes place as the witness turns out to be not only every bit as corrupt as the other wealthy around them, but openly culpable without fear of reprisal. In the end, the only people who care about what really happened, are the people who have to bury their dead.

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Typical of the Romanian new wave, Child’s Pose is a well crafted film, with an intricately layered script by Răzvan Rădulescu and Călin Peter Netzer, immersed acting and light intimate camera work. It’s another to add to the already long list of high quality films identifiable in this period.

Child’s Pose is showing at the Sydney Film Festival, and is one of the films in the main competition. You can get your tickets here.

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