Family matters in deep, sometimes agonizing ways in the stark but remarkable Romanian film Child’s Pose. This is a tale of tragic circumstances in which the central event — a child’s death in a preventable accident — is never seen but is powerfully felt on multiple levels. From there the film proceeds with a hypnotic and naturalistic flow, moving slowly but steadily with an expanding range of submerged themes and plots. Issues of legal manipulations, imbalances on the socioeconomic front, protecting one’s family at the expense of justice, and finding a path to human compassion all circulate through the film in ways we don’t always see coming.
Child’s Pose was named the winner of the prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, but it was also one of the very best films screened at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the prize of the festival’s renewed Eastern Bloc series — a potent example of the strengths of the so-called “Romanian New Wave.”
But as intriguing as Child’s Pose is on its own terms, as a fairly experimental piece of cinema, at the heart of it all is a truly stunning turn by Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu, who plays the powerhouse mother of the accused. Something about her riveting, film-anchoring performance is reminiscent of the emotionally complex work of Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence (we detect a Cassavetes-esque grit and pulse in the cadences and rough, realistic textures of Child’s Pose, too). But whereas Rowland’s character is coming unhinged, Gheorghiu’s is a controlling gale force, with her humanity buried under layers of stern control freakishness.
In one painful exchange with her son, who has grown weary of her meddling, he urges her to back away from the child, advising her, in her middle age, to get “a lover, a hobby. Some people go to the Pyramids.” Her comeback, painfully true to the heart of this story: “People find fulfillment in their children.” Said quality of “fulfillment,” a loaded word and notion in terms of family values and parent-child relationships, reaches an emotional fever pitch in the gripping final scene, a tearful confrontation of pained parentages. From that in-our-face emotive climax, the more purely filmic touch returns as she watches her son in the rearview mirror, without sound, making his own gesture toward compassion. We are rapt, both as cinema lovers and human beings: the best combo — and a rare one.