Some people just shouldn’t have children. Especially idiotic children.
After giving birth, teenage Sonia (Déborah François) returns home to find that her boyfriend, a petty criminal named Bruno (Jérémie Renier), has sublet their apartment. Sonia tracks Bruno down on the street, and after the couple spends the night together, they decide to start a new life with the baby and forget about any of their past trouble and woes. But the next morning, Bruno sells their child for cash, sending Sonia into an absolute state of shock and awe. How could he do this? Was it for love? Money? Or did he just not want to responsibility any longer of taking care of something that is, you know, his? Regardless, she decides that it’s best to press charges against him for taking what was rightfully hers. Bruno is shocked by her decision, too, so he vows to find the baby and bring it back to her, by any means necessary. And being that he’s already in the criminal-game, Bruno’s got some ideas and tricks up his sleeve.
“Looks like money to me.”
As usual with the writing/directing team of Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, L’enfant is no easy ride. In fact, it’s one of their more disturbing, hard-to-watch movies ever made as we literally never grow to like any of these characters. Sure, you could say that about the rest of their films, in which we never really judge the characters, as much as we just sit and watch them, but here, it feels like they’re so despicable, that spending any time with them whatsoever, let alone two hours, would just be way, way too much. Add-on the fact that the Dardenne’s love themselves some hand-held close-ups and yeah, you’ve got a pretty miserable experience.
And yes, that’s exactly the point.
See, L’enfant is a hard movie to watch because, like most of the Dardenne’s other movies, it asks us the simple question of whether or not we can accept these idiotic, downright juvenile human beings as just that, human beings? They’re stupid and they make absolutely dumb decisions, but does that make them any less human than you or I? The Dardenne’s have always examined this in their movies, but it feels more raw and relevant here because, at the center of it all, is something resembling a love story, that eventually, as expected, turns sour.
But then it becomes a sort of redemption-story of one Bruno, who goes from being the most unlikable, despicable human being on the face of the planet, to actually a pretty determined guy, when he wants to be. See though, that’s the thing about Bruno and the movie – we never fully see it all in just one light. Bruno can be seen as another dumb young adult who doesn’t really know what to do, unless he’s committing some act of vandalism or crime, but when faced with responsibility, can act his age and actually make something of his relatively pathetic life.
Seriously. Michael Bay, take notes.
And it deserves stating that Jérémie Renier, a Dardenne regular since he was literally 14, does one of his best jobs here. Of course, it helps that he’s got a lot to work with; Bruno grows throughout the whole course of the movie and we see different shades of him. We may not always like, or respect the shades, but they are still shades nonetheless, and Renier remains always compelling. We never know what his next action will be, or for what reasons, and because of that, he’s incredibly watchable and perfect for this kind of role, in this kind of movie.
The kind of raw, gritty, and in-your-face movie that needs raw, gritty, in-your-face performance to match it.
But honestly, it’s the Dardenne’s who deserve a lot of praise for, once again, proving that the best way to tell stories such as these, is to just sit back and let the acting/writing do the talking itself. Which is surprising because a solid portion of the movie is actually quite as thrilling; a car-chase that happens about halfway through and seems to go on forever, is way more exciting than most that I see in your typical, summer blockbuster fare. But it doesn’t always resort to action to really keep itself compelling – all it needs is a little emotion and heartbreak to drive everything along.
Sort of like life itself.
Consensus: As sad as it is, L’enfant is still another masterclass in raw, gritty naturalism that the Dardenne’s have practically perfected, with a great lead performance from Renier.
8.5 / 10
Thanks, Bruno. Always making the men look good in this kind of situation.
Photos Courtesy of: Sony Classics