Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale awards this year, Child’s Pose is a reminder of the stark power that an excellent script and exceptional acting can have. It begins as a gentle comedy, observing the dispassionate cynicism of the upper class – Cornelia (Luminița Gheorghiu) and her friend Olga talk frankly about her useless husband and her son who never calls. Cornelia spends her days gossiping with the cleaner Clara (her only access to her son, whose house Clara also cleans), and goes to opera rehearsals in the evening.
When her son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) hits and kills a child while speeding on the motorway, the film becomes a study of the lengths to which Cornelia will go to protect her own child. She takes complete charge: controlling, bribing and emphasising her important connections. Meanwhile she completely forgets the family of the victim. This movie really succeeds at showing how hard it can be to empathise, and the ease with which we default to selfishness.
As the focus of the film, the audience’s sympathy is drawn towards the driver’s family rather than the victim’s, and in that sense we respond as Cornelia does – her loyalty is to her son. At points she even seems happy to have him back despite what he has done. Gheorghiu gives a completely convincing and astute portrayal as the mother: she is nosy and manipulative, forceful and often unpleasant. But she is also a tragic figure. Her days are spent chatting to the cleaner and watching opera. Reflecting on the nature of parents she says: “Everything they failed to accomplish they achieve through their children.” Maternal love is eternal love, but it is up to us to decide to what extent she is motivated by selfishness, too.
The film is genuinely enthralling throughout. It has an incisive and subtle script by Răzvan Rădulescu that presents both a gripping family drama and an intricately layered character study. The intensity and ambivalence of the final scene are stunning. Close-up shots of Cornelia allow the audience to scrutinise her expressions in minute detail as she delivers a heartbreaking monologue, but it remains impossible to tell whether we are seeing the genuine outpourings of a distraught mother, or the deeply callous façade of the upper class matriarch who will do anything to get what she wants.
Child’s Pose is released nationwide on 1st November 2013.
Watch the trailer for Child’s Pose here: