L’Enfant (2005)

“We’ll have another.”

When the film L’Enfant begins, teenage mother Sonia (Deborah Francois) returns to her squalid little flat with her new baby, Jimmy. In her absence, however, the baby’s father, petty criminal Bruno (Jeremie Renier), has ‘sublet’ the flat for a few days. This doesn’t particularly bother Sonia, and she nonchalantly sets off to find Bruno who is homeless and lives in a makeshift hut by the side of a river. Bruno sponges off of Sonia’s benefit money, and also hustles small-time narcotics deals. He’s also organized local children into a gang. He takes a percentage of the proceeds of their crimes–hocking the loot in second-hand shops.

It’s chilling to see these two young parents as they careen towards disaster. When Bruno makes a score, the cash is rapidly frittered away. Obviously neither parent gives much thought to the future–even when poor little Jimmy arrives. Bruno soon comes up with the brilliant idea of selling Jimmy on the black market. It seems to be a fairly cut-and-dried situation for him, and he’s used to selling anything of worth that comes his way.

Watching L’Enfant is a painful experience, and several scenes cause this viewer to wince at the profoundly depressing future that awaits Jimmy. Bruno and Sonia’s hapless parenting screams disaster, and the film’s emotional blankness reflects Bruno’s moral landscape–there’s simply nothing there–it’s all impulse, desire, and short term-gain. With intense camera focus, the film creates an intimate atmosphere surrounding Bruno and Sonia. In one scene for example, there’s a sensation that the viewer is actually traveling on the bus with the couple. And that very intimacy also highlights the vast moral void that constitutes Bruno’s character. Even when Bruno attempts to repair the damage of his actions, his motives remain unclear and open to interpretation. This is not a film that provides a moral solution, and indeed its ending implies that a bleak future lies ahead. Directed by Belgium brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the film is in French with English subtitles.

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