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L'Enfant (The Child)

Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
Note: (in French with subtitles)

In Short: The winner of the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival is a gritty and engrossing study of hapless young parents gone out of control.

Social Realism
Love, Hate and an Empty Carriage
By Andrew Bender

We don't know the words for "heinous scumbag" in French, but that's what we'd call Bruno to his face if we did. This 20-year-old wheeler-dealer-stealer (played by Jérémie Renier) in an unnamed Belgian city meets his newborn son at the beginning of this film, and before we know it he's sold the boy on the black market. Then he goes to buy cigarettes—hey, a man's gotta have his priorities straight.

When Bruno tells his 18-year-old girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François) what he's done, she faints nearly dead, and he ransoms the kid from the equally heinous scumbag baby brokers. Only when Sonia kicks Bruno out does it dawn on him that maybe—just maybe—he's done something he shouldn't have. The rest of the film careens through his frenetic attempts to make everything right.

"L'Enfant," which won the Golden Palm at last year's Cannes Film Festival, moves so quickly and the acting is so deft that you hardly notice its depressing premise. Its realist Dogma 95 style (natural light, no special effects, handheld cameras, etc.) lends a gritty, handmade feel that suits these hapless characters and their haphazard lives.

François is so natural as Sonia that it was hard to believe that this was her film debut. Yet it's really Renier, as the antihero, who keeps it going. He is a riveting young actor—his Bruno is just boyish enough to be dangerous, and just dangerous enough to be boyishly attractive. He may not display emotion on his face, but his eyes reveal a mind always working, always spinning, always plotting, and you certainly can't trust his apologies. Ever. Even when he finally breaks down you're not sure that it's real.

In fact, the more we thought about it, we weren't sure which child the movie's title was referring to, but ultimately we're glad we were let in on the story.

(Published: 03/23/06)

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