Rich material that's all about fear, guilt, entitlement, and bitter truths that make us question our worth, to ourselves and to others.
One of Romania’s most prominent actors, Luminita Gheorghiu bolsters her already glowing track record with Child’s Pose, a somber, hopeless mother’s tale painted in shades of grey. Directed by Calin Peter Netzer, the film won the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin Film Festival. Gheorghiu, best known for her roles in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, here plays Cornelia (or Controlia, as her husband sometimes calls her), a platinum blonde, privileged, snooty architect whose only blight on her easy life is a single great sorrow: her adult son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), who she loves to no end, resents her to no end.
While trying to overtake another vehicle on the freeway, Barbu accidentally collides with and kills a 14-year-old boy. Stricken with desperation and panic, as any loving mother would be, Cornelia tries to use her money and connections to keep Barbu out of jail, but soon realizes that her wealth, social standing, and air of entitlement make her largely unsympathetic to the cops and the victim’s family. The fact that Barbu was allegedly speeding when the accident took place doesn’t help one bit.
From throwing money at the driver Barbu tried to pass (a key eye witness who could be their only hope at protecting Barbu), to compromising the police’s investigation herself, Cornelia will stop at nothing to protect her boy. Despite how un-relatable she is on the surface, it’s easy to feel her pain as she proves time and again how her love for Barbu is immovable. He’s a prick. A disrespectful brat who’s nothing but rotten to Cornelia, talking to her like an abusive master to a dog, ordering her to fetch him medicine and scolding her when she doesn’t get the exact kind he likes. She got a more expensive version of the same brand, but he didn’t get exactly what he wanted, so he tells her to suck his cock. Really.
The story is reminiscent of Joon-ho Bong’s Mother in premise, though Netzer doesn’t infuse nearly the amount of that film’s visual style. Gheorghiu is terrific, but she’d be riveting on an iPhone; Netzer doesn’t elevate her performance with his camera, which is always handheld (for some odd reason) and trembles at all the wrong times. The quiver-cam doesn’t get in the way so much that it kills the scenes, but when it comes to conveying emotion, Gheorghiu does all the heavy lifting. The film’s color palette is drab and uninspired, though that it looks like a dark cloud hangs over the picture is suitable, in a way. It’s just not all that visually arresting or evocative.
The film’s climactic scene in which Cornelia confront’s the slain boy’s parents is the film’s best, with Gheorghiu tearfully trying to convince them that Barbu is a “good boy”. It’s a hard pill to swallow even for her. “Put yourself in his shoes,” she pleads, but of course all we and the mourning parents are thinking about is that poor boy being prepped for the casket. Does Cornelia deserve sympathy? Does Barbu? Even she doesn’t seem so sure, and she teeters back and forth on the edge of self-loathing and self-pity. Gheorghiu’s performance is so complex, so nimble and unpredictable, it’s breathtaking.
What’s so great about the screenplay (co-written by Netzer and Razvan Radulescu) is that it convinces us so thoroughly that we’ve got this mother-son dynamic figured out, but at unexpected, small moments that pass like a breeze, reveals something new about their psyches that flips everything on its head. It’s rich material that’s all about fear, guilt, entitlement, and bitter truths that make us question our worth, to ourselves and to others.