A mother’s love, a mystery to all those who have never given birth, stays connected to her baby long after the physical link of the umbilical cord is snipped. Both parties wrestle with just how long this now invisible cord should be as time carries on; that hazy boundary between showing that the love is still as strong as ever yet it should also allow the space for each person to step into a new chapter of life. The mother in Calin Peter Netzer’s Child’s Pose completely ignores that line and instead grabs the severed umbilical cord off the floor and ties one end around her waist and the other into a strangling knot around her son’s neck. What she finds out over the course of the film, however, is that this method of dealing with life’s inevitable hardships is not as effective as she would like to believe.
Cornelia, played masterfully by Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghia, is as overbearing and controlling as they come — a matriarch to end all matriarchs. With her dyed blonde hair, perfected makeup, black stiletto boots and a rotating collection of extravagant fur coats, she demands the camera and everyone else in her world to notice and obey her. Yet her domineering hand is motivated — albeit very deep below the surface — by love. She wants the best for everyone in her life, right down to the maid, and believes that the only way this is achievable is with her at the helm. She preaches to everyone to quit smoking out of one side of her mouth while lighting up her fifth cigarette of the day out the other. When she breaks into her deadbeat middle-aged son Barbu’s (Bogdan Dumitrache) apartment, she inspects his bookshelf for the Nobel Prize winners she brought him to expand his mind, feeds his fish and pees in his toilet like she owns the place (she probably does). But, when Barbu runs over a 14–year-old boy who foolishly tried to cross the freeway, Cornelia’s ability to direct her son’s life is put to the test.
Cornelia contacts doctors to fudge potentially damaging Breathalyzer tests and bribes the witness into altering his statement while Barbu sulks like a spineless fish in the background. Yet, beneath all the chaos and meddling lurks a sense of failure, the classic theme of a parent trying to relive their offspring mistake-free and the inevitable disappointment when the child falls harder than they did.
In anyone else’s hands, the film could have easily taken a hard right down the road of exaggerated melodrama, but Netzer is able to steer the tale away from that danger and find its heart, allowing it to lead him where it may.
Andrei Butica’s handheld camera is constantly pushing in to keep up with the emotional turbulence, and though the style lends an organic feel to the slice-of-life tale, one wishes that it would settle down for a moment during particularly heavy scenes to allow the audience to gather its bearings and wholly focus on the marvelous acting. But the active, documentary-like cinematography creates such realism that the possibility of this sticky situation happening to us lingers uncomfortably close.
And Razvan Rasulescu’s screenplay is so well-written, it could be an intimate play. The story flows along seamlessly and all the characters are uniquely developed with multiple layers and strange idiosyncrasies that give the sense that the audience is only scraping the surface. Weaving together subtle humor, social commentary on the gap between rich and poor, the ancient mother–child struggle and an inquiry into the monetary price of justice and human life, Child’s Pose softly prods the audience to examine its own moral and familial fibers long after the screen has gone black.
The film, which screened at USC on Wednesday, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and was Romania’s submission for the Academy Awards, though it was unjustly not nominated.
None of Romania’s entries have ever been accepted for Academy Award consideration, but with work such as Child’s Pose, it’s about time Hollywood paid attention.
Child’s Pose is playing at the Nuart theater through Feb. 27.