Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 26 September 2005
Source Sony Pictures Classics 35mm print
Features: The 43rd New York Film Festival
Early on in L’Enfant, it becomes clear that the film’s title applies as much to Bruno, its twentysomething protagonist, as to his newborn son. When urged by his girlfriend Sonja to find a job to support her and the baby, Bruno breezily declares, “work is for suckers,” and continues to drift along earning a living as a small-time criminal. The arrival of his son doesn’t ruffle him sufficiently to visit Sonja in the hospital, and the latest clothes seem to interest him more than even glancing at the child.
It is no surprise, then, when Bruno decides that the mountain of cash that can be made from selling the baby for adoption outweighs the benefits of keeping the infant. Without consulting Sonja, he arranges for the child to be sold for 5,000 Euros. Upon hearing the news, Sonja collapses, and Bruno scrambles to reclaim their son and repair the damage done.
Although the above action may sound plot-driven, the film’s co-writers and co-directors, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, are less interested in their characters’ actions than the motivations behind them. As in their previous feature, The Son, they use long takes, naturalistic lighting, and handheld cameras to bring a sense of immediacy to their observations. In place of a musical score to cue emotions, they allow the sounds of everyday life to seep through and inform the action at hand.
The phrase “human condition” often creeps up in reviews of the Dardenne brothers’ films, for their portrayals of the inner lives of their characters reach beyond the borders of their immediate experience into a larger emotional terrain. In this case, however, a strange moralism seems to creep in, with misfortune upon misfortune piling upon Bruno as he scrambles to correct his mistakes. Only when he takes responsibility for his actions does redemption seem possible. This may sound trite, but the film’s final shot is a devastating one, marking the culmination of one man’s searing journey into adulthood.