A review of “L'Enfant” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for language and mature themes. In French with English subtitles

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

 

 

There’s an enduring love affair between critics and the Belgian-born Dardenne brothers, helmers of such art-house darlings as “Rosetta” and “La Promesse”. Cannes’ Palme d’Or winning “L’Enfant” has the Dardennes’ irresistible stamp of originality but lacks something in the execution.

Children bearing children is a theme rife with drama and anxiety. When 16-year old Sonia (Deborah Francois) gives birth to a bouncing baby boy she’s under the delusional impression that gadabout squeeze Bruno (Jeremie Renier) is going to settle down with her for good.

Or not. Sullen Bruno is the ultimate “entrepreneur”, a lowlife hustler with far too many irons in the fire to take an interest in an infant and his teenage mother.

Bruno’s indifference takes on startling implications when, short of cash, he proceeds to sell the child on the black market without Sonia’s knowledge. Sonia is shocked to the point of hospitalization and tearfully convinces Bruno to get their baby back.

But the damage is done and Bruno is in far over his head. The adoption ring wants payback with interest, placing Bruno in even trickier circumstances. Thus begins a dramatic chain of events that lead to the ultimate redemption.

          Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are character specialists, their players typically flawed, nuanced and endlessly fascinating. As a character study “L’Enfant” delivers the goods, fraught with the sweet tension and painful heartbreak of coming of age and living on the edge. 

Bruno is particularly intriguing, his blatant disregard for accountability profoundly infuriating yet unaccountably compelling. Unfortunately the Dardennes attempt a disingenuous about face that smacks of melodramatic mortgaging; an emotional catharsis far too effortless to be credible.