Child's Pose is a contemporary drama focusing on the relationship between a mother and her 32-year-old son. After the accidental killing of a boy in a car crash, the mother tries to prevent her son being charged for the death, and she refuses to accept that her son is a grown-up man.
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★★★★½ review by Florin Stan on Letterboxd
Director Călin Peter Netzer's third film follows Cornelia (Luminița Gheorghiu), a well-connected, upper middle class mother who tries to keep her distant son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) away from jail by all means necessary after he killed a child in a car accident. At least that's the plot at the surface. What this movie really is about, as the proceedings take a back seat, is Cornelia's attempt to reconnect with Barbu after their relationship has gone sour for reasons left unclear. Reunited by a catastrophe, a life-changing experience to say the least, they both go through a defining moment in their lives that could shake their foundations.
After strong performances in supporting roles for films like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Luminița Gheorghiu gets the chance to shine in a lead role and that's exactly what she does here. She gives her character the ironclad personality and confidence necessary to succeed in a business world dominated by men and riddled with hardships ready to strike down the weak, the biting nature of an insufferable mother-in-law and the caring touch found in every mother. Having connections in high places Cornelia uses every available resource to steer the fate of her son's case in their favor. To say that Cornelia is an overprotective mother would be an understatement; she does everything in her power to keep her son out of jail, she tries to nose her way in every aspect of her son's life and tries to control his life however she thinks fit. From her behavior it's not difficult to see what might have gone wrong between the two.
Vlad Ivanov, who played the detestable and downright creepy Mr. Bebe in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, has a one-scene appearance here playing another scumbag blackmailer as a witness to the car accident. Ivanov is the best man when it comes to this type of character, the type you want to smack in the face so hard but you can't. His character is just a fragment of the "law bending" and corruption that is showcased in the film, best exemplified by Cornelia as she takes advantage of the crippled system and pays off various people to turn the situation in her favor.
The last twenty minutes of the film are a roller coaster of emotions that bring the characters in a place of self-reflection and realization. These twenty minutes of sheer agony turn the tables and make everything that came before seem superficial and redundant. Too preoccupied with taking care of the case, so much so that she overlooks what's really important, Cornelia comes to realize the gravity of the situation they are in. Completely gripping, superbly acted and brilliantly ended, Child's Pose relentlessly shows the harmful side of a mother-son relationship and the pressing weight of our actions, achieving a rarely met level of affection.
★★★★ review by Rod Sedgwick on Letterboxd
Romanian filmmaker Călin Peter Netzer shoots straight at the heart of a mother and son relationship that blurs the line between maternal love and a destructive maelstrom of over-protection. Luminita Gheorghiu (4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Beyond the Hills) is astonishing in a monstrous matriarchal performance where her bourgeois entitlement will allow her to stop at nothing to try and protect her son after he kills a teenage boy crossing a highway as he is driving at high speed to overtake another vehicle. Bribery, lies and manipulation of apathetic law enforcers are all on the cards as Cornelia takes charge of the situation, at the behest of her son who is trying to deal with the consequences of his fatal error in his own way. Her domineering personality knows no bounds, which in turn has forced her son to grow into a limp and lifeless adult while she still refers to him as if he were a child. Whilst a simple tale of grief and responsibility on the surface, this is a film that mines deep into the psyche and through a jittery handheld lens, captures the largely dialogue driven action with an inescapable and harsh realism. Whilst many confrontations throughout are a gut-punch of bitterness and barbed tongues, there is nothing more impactful than the climactic confrontation between the two families, and worth every second of the uncomfortable ride to arrive there. Romanian cinema continues to quietly astound and impress, and feels like a 'new wave' that refuses to end.
★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
Luminita Gheorghiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) delivers a heartfelt and thoroughly convincing performance worthy of Oscar consideration next year, in Romania's submission for the foreign language award. Now of course, much like Emmanuelle Riva in last years Amour that reality is considerably distant. The least to be hoped for is to elevate the status of the film for others to take notice.
Set amongst the Romanian upper class, Child's Pose is a raw portrayal of the mother/son dynamic. Of overbearing maternal love that ultimately creates the reverse effect. We meet Cornelia (Gheorghiu) sitting with her friend Olga, criticising her son's partner Carmen for causing the divide between the two. Barbu is a 30-year old man who has never quite achieved the aspirations set by his parents, his mother in particular, and whilst disappointed Cornelia won't place the blame at his door.
A fatal car accident involving Barbu that takes the life of a 14 year old boy brings Cornelia back into his life. They are an influential family with connections, with a high ranking official contacting the police station where he is being held for questioning. Cornelia swarms into the station taking charge of her son's affairs, questioning the competence and motives of the officers overseeing the affair.
Director Calin Peter Netzer utilises a natural approach to capture the intensity of the families situation. There are no physical barriers between the lens and its subject placing us in the centre of their crisis. Cornelia has the best intentions at heart but cannot refrain from bossing her son down to every last detail. Barbu at first accepts her assistance before their relationship becomes strained once more.
Gheorghiu immerses herself into the role of a mother who seems determined to live her life through her son. The love is unquestionable, yet suffocating. She wonders why Barbu acts with cowardice and uses such aggressive language when they argue, although you sense a lifetime of smothering has played a large part. There is no sense of animosity toward Cornelia as you understand at the root, her motives are genuine. It is the way she communicates that affection that proves the problem. If there is any doubt, it is surely wiped away in the films conclusion, sitting down with the mother and father of the deceased child in their living room, the pain of their loss reflecting upon her own.
Romania continues to produce high quality dramas building upon a momentum that has been gathering since the mid 00's. Child's Pose adds to the ever growing catalogue of film offering an insightful critique of society within a country that has largely remained a mystery for most of its existence.
★★★★½ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd
Of all the film festivals that litter the world, the Berlinale is the one that piques my imagination most acutely. More than Cannes or Sundance, Berlin's festival, with its predilection for taut, grounded dramas, tugs at me for my attendance. It doesn't hurt that I love the city as well.
Catching this year's Golden Bear winner, Călin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose (Pozitia copilului), took a bit of schedule shuffling but I made it a priority to give it a slot where I would be sure to catch it in the state of utmost alertness. It turned out to be a good move. I was blown away. For me, Child's Pose is the stand out film of this year's MIFF.
In this stiflingly dense, character focussed drama set in contemporary Romania, socialite Cornelia Kerenes (Luminiţa Gheorghiu), jostles with the country's police and judiciary to extricate her son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) from serving time for killing a young boy in a speeding incident. Barbu, for his part, wants none of it. Constricted by his mother's overbearing love, he can think of nothing but fighting his way out from under her, even as his life crumbles around him.
I'm not sure if it is just me, but I look at almost every film coming out of Europe at the moment as an expression, at least on some level, of the current economic troubles besetting the region. Child's Pose leaves little to the imagination in this respect. The image of the fur-lined Cornelia strutting around police stations, going toe to toe with the ragged uncles of the young village boy, while decked to the chin in gold jewellery, certainly hammers home the point. It works though. Firstly because of Gheorghiu's blindingly confident performance and secondly because it lines up so closely to the stream of revelations coming out of Europe concerning social inequality and political corruption. Seeing it played out so blatantly onscreen is at once difficult to countenance and absolutely mesmerising.
Impressively, Netzer and his co-writer, Răzvan Rădulescu, have knitted together a film that damns the prevailing corruption without ever compromising its characters or shunting them into the confines of simplistic caricature for the sake of forcing a point. Nobody on screen feels anything less than actual bone and blood but they are emotionally gaunt creatures. Steering the narrative through the gamut of human experience, Netzer and Rădulescu frame the wider world through the characters' interrelationships, that is, the characters' relationships to Cornelia.
In fact, there is little in the film that doesn't come back to Cornelia's doorstep. Over the course of three powerhouse conversational set pieces, Gheorghiu builds a suffocating image of just why that is. The first and second conversations, one an attempt to pay off another driver, the other a discussion with her son's girlfriend (Ilinca Goia) centring on the disintegration of their relationship, reveal the lengths to which Cornelia will go for her son and the irreparable damage her twisted love has caused. It is the last of the conversations though, the gruelling final scene between Cornelia and the parents of the boy her son killed, that situates Child's Pose as a masterpiece of the Romanian New Wave.
The scene is a masterclass in both acting and screenwriting, an emotions-driven denouement of both character and theme. Netzer and Gheorghiu provide an intense outlet for the film's pent up fear, hurt and societal angst but the release is certainly not uncomplicated. After two hours of watching Cornelia wheedle her way around every possible legal, societal and familial norm, her cathartic outpouring cannot be taken on face value, no matter how revelatory her personal expungement appears. And she is fucking good. Good enough to give that scene the power to resonate much further afield.
Netzer's work here is an achievement in incisive balance. Child's Pose is a film that reeks with paternalism and self preservation, and one that damns both at the same time it reinforces their importance to the audience (which will no doubt be comprised mainly of the well-to-do set). Netzer brings us to the realisation that everything in his film has been brought about through love and loneliness, but he doesn't for one second allow us to believe that this makes any of it right or just. In many respects, Netzer's film is a more expansive, more socially responsible version of last year's Arbitrage. And it devastates where Gere and co. could not.
Child's Pose is one of the year's stand-out releases. It is a tightly constructed, very personal drama that flows urgently from the characters within it, yet trades in themes that impact the world over. Social drama at it most gripping.
★★★★ review by Ruth on Letterboxd
As all good dramas should, Child's Pose manages to unearth a great deal of universal truth in its own distinct manner. Here, the film concerns the psychosis of a mother-son relationship, in all its dimensions.
Gheorghiu here gives a rather stunning performance, it's a marvelous case study of a mother, in all her imperfections, protectiveness and heartbreak. This is the type of protective mother who, when learning her son has accidentally killed a stranger's son, just doesn't get it. She doesn't get it until the final scene, and that is what the plot development is all about. For a mother who spends practically the entire film trying to protect her son from the ramifications of this act, she doesn't seem to completely feel the human loss until the final scene. When her son wants a certain type of love and compassion in accordance with the guilt of the incident, she fails and instead acts as his lawyer rather than his mother, or confidant. It is about a mother's bias and protectiveness polarising her son until she finally connects with the essential premise of the film. It is a natural reaction when someone you love is threatened, and rarely has it been explored better.
The son is also typically imperfect, unfair and slightly spoiled as a result of such a relationship, with hints of familial prejudice towards the mother as seen through the discourse of his father. There are also hints that the overbearing selfishness of the relationship has impacted on the son's life, as seen in the discussion with Carmen. Ultimately, he takes the reins of the mother-son relationship in order to try and resuscitate it. Families can be cruel, often pointing the dagger where it hurts most, and all that mania of overfamiliarity and relational power courses through the veins of this film.
As far as shortcomings, Child's Pose might have an unsuitable direction for some. The handheld gaze is unappealing in the opening scene, shifting back and forth about 45 degrees as two women engage in conversation. But it does set a stylistic precedent for the rest of the film, and for the most part feels natural after the opening. Ultimately it wasn't a major issue for me, but some will question the wisdom of camera movements in certain scenes. I guess the film just wants to go with the flow and avoid cuts.
The film also doesn't really click into gear until the cafe scene with the witness (a very spine tingling scene), which appeared to be at least 40% into the film, and this generally holds it back from a higher rating. Up until that point it feels like a dimly lit night scape procedural where the protagonist must defend her son at all costs, with a sense of family-first moral ambivalence and unavoidable classism. But after this point the remainder of the film enters a series of intense one-on-one table conversations which are completely absorbing, and clearly the reason behind the film's success. Whilst it could be argued that the film is overly reliant on this narrative device for the entire second half of the film, nevertheless Child's Pose exploits such a device in outstanding fashion. From the mother's meeting with the witness, to Carmen, to her son, to the victim's parents, it's a stunning passage of drama.
The whole ensemble here do an excellent job, but Gheorghiu shines. I loved how she enters the final scene with deliberate intentions, and how her negotiations grow more desperate. That scene involved some marvelous acting and handling of emotions on the part of the character, heightening the emotional layers of the scene. The final reconciling moments of the film between the son (willing to take responsibility for his actions) and the victim's father are also appropriately tense.
Child's Pose is ultimately about the necessary death of a mother's 'boy'. Whilst the film concerns an accident involving the loss of another mother's boy, it also purposefully dissects and resolves a fractured and stagnant mother-son relationship. Child's Pose massages familial frictions and unearths a lot of hurt, exaggerated and systemic. It's one of the great mother-son films, and yet another great example of the emergence of Romanian cinema. Mothers can sometimes be overbearing in their love, and sons can sometimes backlash with exaggerated vitriol. There is no perfect balance to a mother-son relationship. This essence is captured beautifully in that excellent (in hindsight) film poster.
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