“L’Enfant”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Amazon.com
August 7, 2006

A disturbing film about a young Belgian couple and their newborn child, L’Enfant tells a heartbreaking tale that is less about love than about the possibility of moral redemption. We quickly learn what kind of people Sonia and Bruno are.

Sonia (Deborah Francois) is a sweet teenager who has just given birth to Bruno’s (Jeremie Renier) child. Instead of visiting her and seeing their baby in the hospital, Bruno sublets her apartment to “friends” who slam the door in her face when she tries to return home. We do not know what Sonia does for a living, but we know she’s diligent enough to maintain a small apartment and keep her pantry stocked with instant soup. Bruno, on the other hand, refuses to take a job. Instead, he leads a gang of thieves who’re approximately half his age (and height).

Still, Sonia loves him. And Bruno, who may be incapable of love, enjoys the carefree benefits of having a girlfriend who doesn’t expect too much. All this changes when Bruno does the unthinkable–he sells their child. He calmly explains to her, “I thought we’d have another.”

Overnight, Sonia changes from a little girl to a bitter woman who no longer excuses Bruno’s behavior. When he returns to her apartment claiming he loves her, she spits back, “You’re lying. You can’t help it.” Not realizing the irony of his own actions, he then begs her for money.

Renier and Francois are formidable actors who convey feelings with subtle nuances. Though the film is in French, the viewer never feels lost. The subtitles certainly help, but the actors are so good that their intonations and expressions speak volumes themselves.

L’Enfant–a 2005 Cannes winner by filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne–is a brutal film to watch not because of any gore or violence, but because of the frailty of the characters and their desperation to survive. In his quest to return the child to Sonia, Bruno attempts to become a better human being. But the viewer is never left with the satisfaction of knowing that he will ever be able to truly redeem himself.

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