Child's Pose

CHILD'S POSE. Starring: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Florin Zamfirescu, Ilinca Goia, and Vlad Ivanov. Directed by Calin Peter Netzer. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 112 min.

This subtitled Romanian drama tells the story of a mother's desperate efforts to keep her son out of prison when he faces manslaughter charges following a car crash. The film won the prestigious Golden Bear award for best film in competition at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival. It is a searingly intense, psychological drama set in thriller fashion that analyses the dysfunctional relationship between a mother and her son.

The mother is Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu), who is an influential, prosperous and well-connected professional designer-architect working in Bucharest. She is married to a   husband (Florin Zamfirescu), whom she describes as "putty in her hands", and she has a tension-filled relationship with her son, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache). Barbu is a moody, withdrawn person, who just "wants to be left alone". He lives with a girlfriend, Carmen (Ilinca Goia), whom Cornelia actively dislikes, and he is suffocated by his mother's determined and autocratic personality.

When Barbu's car hits and kills a young boy on a rural highway, Cornelia sees the tragedy as a chance to manipulate her son's affection for her. She tries to make a deal with the police and attempts to buy off a witness to the accident (Vlad Ivanov), who communicates he is not being offered enough money. Barbu recognises what his mother is doing, and explodes with anger at her interventions. He is especially resentful of Cornelia's attempts to re-mother him. He knows that his mother will stop at nothing to protect him, and he hates her for it.

This is a movie that probes emotions deeply. As Cornelia battles with a justice system that is morally corrupt and excessively bureaucratic, she nevertheless tries to use it to her advantage. However, the more important battle is that between mother and son, who are losing their humanity in their struggles with each other. The film combines socio-political comment about life in upper-class Romania with analysis of a bond that is destroying both mother and son. Cornelia's quiet delight at the fact that her son phoned her about the accident, for example, overshadows any human concern about the boy who was killed. To care for her son, she even tries to convince the victim's distraught family that her son needs their protection. This scene is especially powerful - Cornelia breaks down emotionally about all that has happened, as she lies outrageously on her son's behalf.

Luminita Georghiu's performance as Cornelia is extraordinary. She meddles and interferes to get attention and affection from her son, but communicates subtly her pain and distress with having to do so. All this happens with complete realism, driving home the point that Cornelia's behaviour could just as easily be our own. Calin Netzer, the Director of the movie, depicts the relationship of Cornelia to Barbu with discomforting insight. The tension that builds up throughout the movie creates a crisis for Cornelia. She is forced to come to grips with her own behaviour, her son's intense dislike of her, her failure as a mother, and the guilt that her failure has caused. It is a crisis handled superbly by a wonderful actress.

There are more words than action in the movie, and it has almost a documentary feel about it where the tone of urgency in mother's and son's behaviour emphasises its dramatic force. One is not sure how much we are meant to view Cornelia as a severely disturbed woman, or whether the Director of the movie is asking us to interpret her behaviour as a political allegory for the ills of Romania's rich, and the corruption of the class system in Eastern Europe. In the style of his direction, Netzer creates an air of immorality or lack of ethics, that permeates the Society which the movie is showing.

This is a powerful film that is highly complex, and it is a movie not to be missed. A surprise ambiguous ending to the film leaves one thinking about the meaning of the movie's title long after the final credits have rolled by.

Barbu is the child who is posing, but who is responsible for his pose - Cornelia, Barbu, or both? And how much should the Society in which the two exist partially bear the blame for their inability to reach out and find each other?

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for film and Broadcasting

Palace Films

Released May15th., 2014