Child’s Pose ✮✮✮1/2
by Glenn Lovell
The smothering, manipulative mother is hardly new to theater- and film-goers. Tennessee Williams and Alfred Hitchcock unleashed some of pop cultures most memorably repulsive family matriarchs. These gorgon-like creatures lived to emasculate their children, most especially ‒ Caution! Freudian alert! ‒ the timorous boy-child.
Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County” reminded us how easily this type can lapse into shrill, sputtering caricature. Streep’s Violet Weston made Mrs. Bates in “Psycho” seem almost even-tempered.
Romania’s Luminita Gheorghiu, playing a Bucharest socialite in “Child’s Pose,” proves a refreshing exception. Her Cornelia Keneres is used to having her way: she’s crafty, impervious, politically savvy and, when the occasion serves, can manage a crooked smile to feign concern. She lives to meddle.
In “Child’s Pose,” recipient of the top awards at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, Cornelia runs interference for her thirtysomething son, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), who has been arrested for driving into and killing a 14-year-old boy. Barbu wasn’t drunk, but speed and an unsafe lane change appear to have been factors.
Cornelia really doesn’t care about the facts in the case. Her son is innocent, period. Why? Well, because he’s her son. How dare the police gang up on the boy, “like a pack of hyenas.” The arresting officers, obviously inexperienced, initially resent the mother’s intrusion. As for Barbu, he’s near-catatonic; he doesn’t want any special treatment. In his mind he’s guilty ‒ both as motorist and malleable son.
Immaterial, says mother. Used to controlling all in her orbit, she launches her own investigation, which includes a wildly inappropriate meeting with an eyewitness and a visit with the victim’s parents, in hopes of having them withdraw their formal complaint. “Perhaps we should pay for the funeral,” Barbu’s father suggests.
Written by Razvan Radulescu (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”) and directed by Calin Peter Netzer (“Maria”) in an probing handheld-camera style, “Child’s Pose” is both acerbic character study and understated indictment of Romania’s justice system and entitled inner circle. The import is strongly acted across the board, especially by Ilinca Goia, who plays Barbu’s caught-in-the-middle girlfriend, and Gheorghiu, who has become synonymous with Romania’s new wave (she appeared in the devastating “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”). If reworked on these shores, you can bet Cornelia would eventually drop her guard, show some remorse. Gheorghiu and Netzer refuse to compromise: Like, say, Angela Lansbury in “The Manchurian Candidate,” their Cornelia has ice water in her veins; she remains oblivious to the damage she has wrought. When she does finally shed tears, it’s not for the dead child but rather for the inconvenience caused her and her resentful son.
Barbu’s final entreaty bears repeating: “Mom, please unlock me.”
CHILD’S POSE ✮✮✮1/2 With Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache. Directed by Calin Peter Netzer; scripted by Razvan Radulescu, Netzer. 112 min. In Romanian with English subtitles. Unrated (could be PG-13 for adult subject matter)