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L' enfant

A movie directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

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Relentless close-up on the life of a very young and inexperienced family

  • Sep 12, 2006
The Dardenne brothers' latest film is another remarkable and powerful experiment in realism, that never lets up or backs off or lets you ease away your attention from the two troubled Belgian teenagers who have just become parents. What the film is really about, it seems to me, is the question of what that means. Sonia thinks it means they will "settle down" and Bruno will get a job and stop being a ringleader for younger boys engaged in petty theft. Bruno doesn't know what to think. It's just another thing, big deal, that he doesn't want to affect him or his lifestyle. He doesn't see himself as a father, and is genuinely surprised when Sonia makes a fuss about him having sold the boy on the black market for adoption. He can't see what troubles her, and can't understand why she isn't appeased when she sees how much money they made or when he promises they can have another. He discovers only indirectly, through the impact on her and the consequences for him of his choices, that the birth of his son combined with the so far untested feelings he has for Sonia has changed him and changed who he can be.

The moment of discovery is analogous to similar scenes in Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment or in Bresson's film Pickpocket, and is genuinely touching and powerful. The actor playing Sonia is perfect, and depicts her naive and playful innocence as well as her sincere indignation with a flawless performance. The actor playing Bruno, who carries more of the weight of the film, is almost as perfect. He is charismatic (simultaneously repulsive because of his indifference and yet likeable because of his carefree innocence -- he is living the way he has always lived and cannot understand that he is wrong to do so) and has a presence on camera that justifies the attention the camera gives him -- there are moments, though, in which he is making a discovery or developing an insight or making a decision, and his expressions are a bit too cliched and unsubtle to be believable, approaching for a moment the extreme expressiveness of silent film. Still, as I mentioned, the burden of the film is on him and he carries it well. The style of the Dardenne Bros., perfected and made extreme in this film, can be almost described as a "relentless close-up": for most of the film they follow the faces of the main characters and adapt fluidly to their every movement (another reviewer described this approach as "shaky cam" and I think that is innacurate, the camera moves fluidly and is probably being carried with a steadycam, but does not "shake" -- what may look like shaking is the rhythm of keeping up with the movements of the actors; the "shaky cam" is the result of handheld camera work, sometimes because that is the only option but sometimes done in order to simulate the kind of realism to be found in war footage; that is not what appears in this film). Stylistically, the film reminded me of Lodge Kerrigan's film "Keane", and while Damien Lewis in Keane is a more controlled actor than Jeremie Renier (who plays Bruno), Jeremie is able to alternate fluidly between intensity and a warmth and playfulness. A very worthwhile film, definitely one to see.

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More L' enfant reviews
review by . December 14, 2006
'L'enfant' quickly graps and keeps your interest. It has some purposely lingering moments that develop a tension in a European way that pauses to capture a face at a certain moment. (Which is not unlike Ingmar Bergman films in this sense.) Although what I like about 'L'enfant' is that it is disturbing, but unique. The unthinkable happens and the main protagonist doesn't have the moral capacity to absorb the significance of his actions. The movie is not unlike an urban 'Lord of the Flies' where the …
review by . August 28, 2006
The writing and directing team of Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne once again have created a film that is harsh, difficult to watch, and tremendously honest and recalcitrant to opt out for happy endings. These two artists manage to address strange issues, play them as realistic as feasible and them allow the audience reaction to complete the tale.    Bruno (Jérémie Renier) and Sonia (Déborah François) are two teenage drifters who have just given birth to a baby nine days …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #69
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … more
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A disturbing film about a young Belgian couple and their newborn child,L'Enfanttells a heartbreaking tale that is less about love than about the possibility of moral redemption. We quickly learn what kind of people Sonia and Bruno are. Sonia (Deborah Francois) is a sweet teenager who has just given birth to Bruno's (Jeremie Renier) child. Instead of visiting her and seeing their baby in the hospital, Bruno sublets her apartment to "friends" who slam the door in her face when she tries to return home. We do not know what Sonia does for a living, but we know she's diligent enough to maintain a small apartment and keep her pantry stocked with instant soup. Bruno, on the other hand, refuses to take a job. Instead, he leads a gang of thieves who're approximately half his age (and height). Still, Sonia loves him. And Bruno, who may be incapable of love, enjoys the carefree benefits of having a girlfriend who doesn't expect too much. All this changes when Bruno does the unthinkable--he sells their child. He calmly explains to her, "I thought we'd have another." Overnight, Sonia changes from a little girl to a bitter woman who no longer excuses Bruno's behavior. When he returns to her apartment claiming he loves her, she spits back, "You're lying. You can't help it." Not realizing the irony of his own actions, he then begs her for money. Renier and Francois are formidable actors who convey feelings with subtle nuances....
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DVD Release Date: August 15, 2006
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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