Child's Pose starts with distracting, hard to follow party chatter - a course anecdote about someone "cutting his own dick off" - amongst other gossip and trivialities. Amongst these (notably of a class) activities, a woman (Cornelia) is singled out as a focus point amongst the rabble. First she's dancing joyfully, then the camera heads off to the opera with her. Then midway through, the entertainment is jarringly interrupted by something more incisive, the announcement via phone call that her son has run over and killed a child.Opera bellowing in the background as she receives the news. With this, a searing line is cut through the trivial and brings character and viewer firmly into the immediate.
More than this though, this potent contrast establishes the conflict that is at the heart of Child's Pose, that of class divide. With the accident, the bourgeois mother is forced to engage with the working class community she had until now managed to ignore. Feasibly, in another softer film from a softer nation, this might lead to realisations and understandings of their issues and concerns; but in this, a film that sits well within the framework of the Romanian (now-not-so-new) new wave, it only serves to reinforce and reinvigorate the protectionist drives that serve to create such an unbalance to start with. Crisis might be expected to be a leveller, but in Calin Peter Netzer's bitter, Golden Bear winning film, it seems only to disrupt.
Indeed, before the case has even begun, Cornelia (a spirited, high intensity performance from Luminita Gheorghiu) is arranging its closure through a insider friend. She turns immediately to fixer mode, openly and loudly arranging corruption, as if it is her right as a member of the elite. This prioritisation, of her son (but really herself) over all else becomes a pattern throughout as Netzer charts the fallout of the driving incident. Insolent against the law, moral and legal, Cornelia ploughs a bulldozing path through the film, to make sure the rich stay rich, whatever the impact upon those who stand in the way. The boy struck down serves as a fairly obvious, but admittedly potent metaphor for this destruction.
The problem with this approach is the need to find the appeal in following characters so one-dimensionally vile and unrelentingly unforgivable, or at least justify the propensity for misanthropy through rigidity of craft, as Michael Haneke, a clear influence for first time director Netzer has always somehow managed to do. The play that Netzer chooses is to make the son even more reprehensible, his vileness culminating in a scene where he tells his mother to "blow" him after she brings him the wrong medicine.
The son's behaviour, shown as a result of persistent wealth and unwavering pampering, is so horrid that alters the perception of the mother, who starts to seem less rotten and more pathetic as the film progresses. That her moral bankruptcy comes from commitment to a perpetually undeserving son makes it seem more palatable as it comes from a place of the love, providing the film with an emotional hook. That this sympathy that the film requires in order to not be a one-track record comes in this form says something of the style Netzer is emulating. In one touching moment, Cornelia is seen feeding his fish - conveying the extent of her care for her only child. In a vision as uncompromisingly bleak as this, even love comes from the wrong place: she smothers him with it and compromises herself for it. He's totally broken as a result.
In addition to the problems of simplicity of vision, the style is not overly engaging either. The documentary style camerawork seems forced, as if Netzer is trying to associate his film with its modern Romanian forebears. In the procedural approach and shaky camera verite construction, it encourages comparison with The Death of Mr Lazerescu, the film that first made audiences look with intrigue in Romanian directions, but his vision is not as rigid formally, nor as tight narratively. Child's Pose shares an actress too, in Gheorgiou, further rigidifying the unflattering comparison. A documentary styling does not immediately equate authenticity, and Netzer's following films could benefit from a more cinematic styling.
His script is good, and his actors very capable, but something in the final product feels a little underwhelming, as if Netzer thought that throwing together all the elements of the traditional modern Romanian filmmaking style would produce insight without his guidance. The final minimalist moral play that emerges is promising, and almost satisfying, but like its lead a little suffocating in its commitment to one way of seeing and doing things.