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Volume 2, Issue 3
Autumn 2006:

L'Enfant (The Child)

Review by: Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2006 Autumn; 2(3):a10

L'Enfant (The Child)

It's hard to imagine a drama more apropos for Fathers' Day than Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's film, L'Enfant. Winner of the 2005 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this oeuvre is more an in-depth character study of moral development than the typical sort of shallow, action-oriented drama depicted in most contemporary American films.

The story revolves around Bruno (Jérémie Rénier), a young deadbeat delinquent, who sleeps in a cardboard box in a shack near the river and subsists by fencing stolen merchandise. His one-time girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François) has just given birth to their son, and drifts through the opening scenes trying to track Bruno down. He doesn't return her telephone calls; she discovers that he's sublet her apartment in her absence. When she finally finds him on the street — orchestrating a petty crime on his cellphone — he appears less than enamored with the baby than she had hoped.

Shortly after Bruno acquiesces to sign for paternity, he takes the infant out for a walk and returns with the baby buggy empty and a fist-full of cash. When Sonia asks the whereabouts of her newborn, Bruno replies with an air of nonchalance: "Je l'ai vendu — I sold him."

Only after Sonia's somewhat predictable response lands her in the hospital does Bruno reconsider his actions. He sets out to get the baby back, more to save his own skin from prosecution than for Sonia's sake. But as the scenes flow by, we witness a gradual change in Bruno, who ends up surrendering himself to the authorities to save his fourteen-year-old accomplice in petty crime from incarceration.

L'Enfant is laced with dark, shadowy scenes reminiscent of film noir. At one point, after Bruno gently lays his son down on his jacket in the corner of an abandoned flat in preparation for the upcoming transaction, we see him return briefly, strain to catch perhaps a glimpse of remorse in his face as he stoops toward the child — but realize that he's just reaching for a pack of cigarettes in the coat pocket. The only visit to his mother's house, to inform her that he has a son, takes place in the dead of night — and that solely because he needs to enlist her for an alibi.

The final redemptive act culminates in a reconciliation of sorts between Bruno and Sonia over coffee in a prison lunch room. Only then, amidst a barrage of trembling tears and emotional grimacing, do we realize just who this film's Enfant truly is.

L'Enfant (The Child). Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

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