Christmas is a time for family, or so we’re told, and with this in mind I would like to recommend to you a perfect family film about an imperfect family. You might think twice, however, about saving this one for that cosy post-blow-out viewing slot. Child’s Pose, which won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and is released on DVD next week, continues the wave of penetrating Romanian cinema that began in 2006 with The Death of Mr Lazarescu and went on to include 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days and Police, Adjective—masterpieces of control tempered by a desperate compassion.
Luminiţa Gheorghiu does a complete volte-face from her performance as the kind-hearted medic in The Death of Mr Lazarescu by playing the Medusa-like Cornelia, mother to a slovenly overgrown lump of a son. When he is arrested for running over and killing a 14-year-old boy, she springs into action. Coldly she surveys the child’s grieving relatives at the police station: they are huddled together sullenly in shell-suits and trainers while Cornelia and her sister are barricaded behind furs, bleach-jobs and matching scowls. She wastes no time persuading her dazed son to change his statement while haranguing the cops for “ganging up on my baby like hyenas.” Then she approaches a key witness and throws her chequebook on the scales of justice. She is undoubtedly monstrous, but Gheorghiu keeps her terrifyingly human at all times.
There is a nice balance in the film between the forensic procedures surrounding the accident and the messy emotions over which science has no dominion. Cornelia herself is repressed and detached: rummaging in her son’s damaged vehicle for his mobile phone, she doesn’t even seem to register the blood-flecked windscreen shattered into a spider-web. And her perversion of the legal system is only an extension of her maternal relationship; she pulls on a rubber glove to administer ointment to her son’s wounds, then extends her loving massage further than is strictly necessary. The handheld camerawork provides those qualities we have come to expect from the best of recent Romanian filmmaking: tension, analysis, emotional immersion. In our society which prizes families above all else (especially that mythical and coveted species, the “decent, hard-working” sort), it is encouraging to find a film that interrogates the pernicious influence that family life can sometimes exert.
Child’s Pose is released on DVD on Monday.