The documentary, or cinéma vérité, style of filmmaking has become such a reliable method for gritty realist dramas that many directors risk using it as a pedestrian crutch when they can’t think of any creative, distinct way to capture their story. This thought crept into my mind as I was watching the first few minutes of Child’s Pose—my first foray into the Romanian New Wave since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days—in which we see Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu), a spoiled rich woman, smoke, gossip, gripe, take in open opera rehearsals, and dance to Europop at social gatherings. In hindsight, these moments suffice for a hook but feel rather tacky. A protagonist is being built, yes, and well-built at that, but the director, Calin Peter Netzer, is never at ease with his camera, swerving it with artless haste to catch the essential action, unable to grasp the potential magic of shot and montage. What is the meaning of all this? It’s only after her sister-in-law Olga (Natasa Raab) arrives with news that Cornelia’s son Barbu (an underused, intriguing Bogdan Dumitrache) has fatally struck a child with his car that the film truly kicks into high gear. The key theme here is that corruption does not play out in sinister boardroom conspiracies, as I imagine we all like to fantasize. It plays out in the most casual conversations and dealings—in police stations, mall cafés, houses and offices—among relatable people who are simply looking out for themselves and those closest to them, damn the law and damn perfect ethics. Does Cornelia even realize what she’s doing when she’s writing over police reports and making the bribes and deals she does? Likely so, but Gheorghiu’s subtle performance makes it borne more out of maternal instinct than out of malicious subterfuge. (This is the second film in a row I’ve watched about mothers guarding their wayward sons, yet another coincidence I’ve noted this month.) In refusing to demonize its characters, the film aims to reinforce an understanding of why bureaucratic corruption exists and how we ourselves may be responsible for it even when we aren’t fully aware of it. The acting is superb, and besides Gheorghiu, I must cite Vlad Ivanov in his one-scene masterstroke as a witness to the car accident whom Cornelia bribes. Ivanov here molds an entire character out of a bit of mathematics, a re-presentation of the crime scene, a trophy wife and son, an e-cigarette, and a willingness to be swayed. He also implies the crucial irony that though Barbu may skip some prison time because the kid’s parents forgot to teach him how to cross the road, Cornelia might have taught Barbu how to drive. You can tell I wanted more of this guy. As it is, the film’s final minutes are maudlin, bewildering and tonally inconsistent from everything that has come before. So: a flawed opening, a weak conclusion, but a strong enough middle.
Tomorrow: We leave Europe to break the ice with Wong Kar-Wai.