A worthy winner of Berlin’s Golden Bear and a strong contender for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Academy Awards, Child’s Pose (2013) provides a fascinating insight into Romania’s affluent society and ubiquitous corruption. Calin Peter Netzer focuses on one middle-class family and the troubled relationship of a domineering mother Cornelia and her privileged son Barbu. The film opens with Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu) chain-smoking and bemoaning the lack of contact with Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache). She’s about to hit sixty and he – for reason’s unknown – is refusing to attend his mother’s birthday celebration.
At the lavish party we see just how well connected Cornelia and her husband are. Soon after, they learn that Barbu has had a car accident and killed a 14-year-old-boy while speeding. Cornelia rushes to the police station on the outskirts of Bucharest where she insists on changing Barbu’s incriminating statement. Misguidedly, Cornelia sees the accident as an opportunity to reunite with her estranged son and from then on takes charge and starts to pull strings. She calls men in high office, offers bribes and arranges to meet the crucial witness Laurentiu (Vlad Ivanov) whose car Barbu was overtaking at the time of the accident. Taciturn Barbu resents his mother’s interventions, clearly suffocated by her maternal love.
Netzer ratchets up the tension with frequent close- ups of his characters so we get to observe every blemish, grimace and wince of pain. Andrei Butica’s superb camerawork lays bare Barbu’s distaste for his mother and Cornelia’s ruthlessness. There is plenty of other telling detail – Cornelia’s peroxide blonde hair and fur coat speaks reams about her milieu while her son’s squeamishness about bacteria is equally illuminating. Psychologically complex, Child’s Pose is an intense cinematic experience and a stunning example of the Romanian New Wave.
There are three superb set-pieces. The first one occurs when Cornelia meets Laurentiu to ask him to change his statement and over coffee they negotiate what price she is willing to pay for her son’s freedom. The second comes when Cornelia sits down with Barbu’s partner Carmen (Ilinca Goia) and learns some hard truths about the son she adores. Then there’s Child’s Pose’s extraordinary ending, where Cornelia visits the grieving parents of the boy. Their shared grief is painful to watch but also offers the possibility of redemption for mother and son.