In this impeccably wrought collaboration between director Calin Peter Netzer and celebrated writer Razvan Radulescu, the creative duo lays bare the weird power dynamic that exists between parents and their adult children, and the lengths people will go to protect their own. Mr. Radulescu, whose works 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu dealt more explicitly with the harsh realities the brutal repression of the erstwhile Communist regime in Romania and the absurd inefficiencies of the current Romanian government, respectively, turns his gaze toward more banal subjects in dealing with a tragic car accident in a small town outside Bucharest. The result is a devastating character study set to the backdrop of institutionalized bureaucratic corruption and a justice system that’s largely for sale.
Luminita Gheorghiu, who’s worked frequently with Radulescu in the past, turns in one of the most compelling performances of her already pretty impressive career. She plays Cornelia, a well-to-do middle-aged socialite whose relative material comfort allows her ample time to fixate on her estrangement from her 30ish-year-old son. Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), seems at first glance to be almost incapable of taking responsibility for his actions, calling to mind the current rumblings in the American press about “affluenza” as a defense for terrible behavior. Coddled by his mother throughout his entire life, Barbu wants nothing more than to be left alone in his baller, paid-for apartment, free from the nagging phone-calls and lunch requests of his doting mother.
We’re first introduced to Cornelia at a fairly swanky birthday party her equally wealthy middle-aged friends have thrown for her, a scene that serves both efficiently and beautifully to give us most of what we need to know to interface with her character. The next morning, alone with her put-upon maid, who she also pays to clean her son’s apartment, Cornelia pathetically inquires about how he’s doing. Not too long after this introduction, Barbu, speeding in order to pass another driver on a country road in the middle of rural Romanian nowhere, strikes and kills an impoverished teen, which is where the polite wickedness of the characters starts to show. As Cornelia tries to find ways to insure her son’s freedom and clear his name, Netzer and Radulescu treat corruption and bribery in the least sensational way possible, which only serves to heighten the gravity of their negative effects.
Gheorghiu’s relationship with her son’s girlfriend is a minefield, and offers the most clear glimpses of Cornelia’s desperate and overarching need for control, even in matters as benign as which crappy novels her son is reading — after all, she goes so far as to ask his maid if the book she bought for him months ago is anywhere to be seen on his nightstand. Through watching all of the ostensible risks Cornelia takes for her son’s well-being, it becomes more and more apparent that she’s doing these things as much to appease her own sense of pride and importance as anything else. At times this becomes palpable and uncomfortable to watch, which is a testament to the caliber of Gheorghiu’s performance.
Child’s Pose is a stark meditation on what we do to protect those who we love, and whether it’s actually love or rather power we’re really after in the final accounting of things. In its brutal conclusion, the film leaves us wondering if Cornelia’s motivations lie with protecting her son, or with maintaining what little matriarchal control she has over her family. It’s kind of baffling this one didn’t garner a Best Foreign Film nomination in the Oscars this year.