How far will a mother go to save her child? This is the question explored by Child’s Pose, winner of the Berlin Golden Bear last month, and now on general release in its homeland. The picture is inseparable from the powerful performance of Luminita Gheorghiu, a Romanian New Wave regular, who is in almost every scene.
Gheorghiu plays Cornelia, a ghastly nouveau riche architect who’s leading the sort of wealthy yet joyless existence that the non-rich like to believe is common among the rich. Fur coat-clad, helmet-haired and hard faced, she’s a sort of Romanian Carmela Soprano, buoyed by her membership of what passes for the country’s “elite” – namely unpleasant people with money and connections.
The cash and contacts are called into play when Cornelia’s deadbeat son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) accidentally runs over and kills a young boy. Momzilla immediately comes in to bat for her over-mothered offspring, attempting to influence the investigating officers, get a witness statement altered and even persuade the victim’s family to take a lenient approach in their pursuit of justice.
Viewers familiar with the Romanian New Wave will find many similarities here. Minimalism, realism and a grim look at post-Communist society are punctuated by moments of black humor. Corruption is an important theme. However, Child’s Pose is unusual for shifting the focus away from the gloomy apartment blocks and proletarian misery and onto the swanky villas and levers of power of the moneyed class.
The “real” Romania, though, is not far away. After Cornelia is called out of an operatic performance to Barbu’s aid by family friend or perhaps relative Olga (Natasa Raab), the two women sit, dressed up to the nines in their flashy furs, ridiculously out of place in the drab police office, which recalls other New Wave productions such as Police, Adjective and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Meanwhile, the simple rural home of the victim sounds a reminder that the Romania of posh pads, fancy parties and trendy cafes is not open to most.
Child’s Pose is not easy viewing. Scenes involving the young boy’s grieving family are particularly harrowing to watch, and it’s hard to find a likeable character among Cornelia’s family and associates, who are either feeble personalities in thrall to the dominant matriarch or equally conniving chiselers themselves. But it’s to the credit of Gheorghiu, director Calin Netzer and writer Razvan Radulescu that Cornelia is far more complex than a one-dimensional harridan.
Though we see her plumb some frightening moral depths in her manic maternal quest, she also demonstrates far more courage and resolve than her ineffective husband and son, and she is the driving force in their attempt to reach out to the victim’s family – even if her motives are multifarious. It’s a hugely impressive performance from Gheorghiu and marks another feather in the cap of Romanian filmmaking.
Director: Calin Netzer
Starring: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Natasa Raab, Florin Zamfirescu, Ilinca Goia, Vlad Ivanov
On at: Cinema City Cotroceni, Cinema City Cotroceni VIP, Cinema City Sun Plaza, Elvira Popescu, Grand Cinema Digiplex, Hollywood Multiplex, Movieplex, Patria, Studio