2005; written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; 95 mins
It is true that grim tales of the working class struggle are rarely the chosen Friday night fodder of those who’s lives are being depicted and more Get Out of Jail Free cards for the middle class liberals who pretend to care for ninety minutes. The Dardenne brothers’ L’enfant is very firmly in the mould of documentary-like morality play but to simply judge it by it’s bare bones would miss the point.
Twentysomethings Bruno and Sonia, have a week-old son; Sonia is unemployed and Bruno is a petty thief, grabbing a quick euro here and there, wherever he can. Sonia is immediately trying to mature and do her best with her baby son, whereas Bruno treats him as little more than a curio. Skint and owing, Bruno soon sells the baby without Sonia’s knowledge – what follows is their downward spiral as the full consequences of Bruno’s actions come knocking down their door.
You do think Bruno’s really in for a reality check and then the film makes you absorb the environment and people around him. This film made me consider the idea that Bruno has no real sense of responsibility because people brought up in the arse-end of a broken society may very often end up cocooning themselves in a bubble of their own needs and wants. Bruno deals with reality every day and he is very probably just nulled to anyone outside of those who can provide him with money, food or sex.
Certain corners of film buffery will call this filmmaking “transcendental” – to elevate it out of the docudrama ‘ghetto’. It isn’t. It’s better than that, it’s the most down to earth, analytical yet compassionate storytelling that doesn’t want to ask the big questions of what it means to be human or such like. With it’s unadorned, probing, hand-held takes, it simply presents the reality of a young parent, to be faced with that responsibility and in doing so asks: who should be responsible for the Brunos of this world and who ultimately gets shouldered with that responsibility?
See also: Rosetta, The Son