(another “childish” film review by Timothy J. Verret)
Not sure why God keeps bringing me these “childish” films. First, it was THE MARRIAGE STORY and now it is this 2005 Belgium film, L’ENFANT. Maybe God wants me to understand that all adults are really children and why God said, “and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). But given these two films mentioned with ineffectual child-like parents raising children, if “a little child shall them,” we might be in some serious trouble.
L’ENFANT, which won the 2005 Cannes Palme d’Or, is the story of Bruno and Sonia, parents (and I use that word very loosely) of a child named Jimmy. They are living on the edge between childhood and adolescence; they are nowhere close to crossing over into adulthood. When they are not attending to little Jimmy, which Sonia seems to be the only keen on doing this, they are acting like children themselves. They chase each other around in the park, make silly gestures and poke at each other, giggling and being carefree. But it’s exactly that they are so carefree that they don’t seem to understand the actual care that is involved in raising a child. How could they? They are children themselves.
Bruno is more interested in stealing and camping out in homeless shelters and lying in cardboard boxes as bedding for him, Sonia and Jimmy. Bruno even says, “only fuckers have jobs.” Bruno is so irresponsible that one day, he takes the baby carriage with Jimmy, calls a black-market adoption arranger, and sells Jimmy for money. When he returns back to Sonia with the baby carriage but WITHOUT Jimmy, he tells Sonia, “I sold him. We can have another one.” Sonia looks at him in sheer and shocked disbelief and faints from the unbelievable news. Bruno just doesn’t understand why Sonia is so upset, yet he contacts the adoption people and buys Jimmy back and returns him to Sonia. Yet, that is not the end to the beginning of this nightmare of a film setup.
Real-life brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are the directors of L’ENFANT. They direct the film as though it’s a documentary, what with an erratic camera tilting and “breathing” and very stilted yet cut-to-the-chase dialogue. That adds to the realism of the story and certainly lends to us feeling as though the story is unfolding in real-time. I guess real-life brothers would know all about real-time. For us, we are transported to a different time and locale and introduced to two people, Bruno and Sonia, who really exist beyond the screen, in that their parental instincts, or lack thereof, put them in the majority and not the minority. They, like so many, are really and totally unprepared for child-raising, really and totally too young to know what being a parent really means, and really and totally too much children themselves to take on such a hefty responsibility of being a parent.
Images that stuck with me were Bruno pushing around an empty baby carriage, only later in the film seen pushing around an empty scooter. This solidified that not only was Bruno incapable of pushing around an actual baby or person but also Bruno had nothing to push around for he felt empty in his own skin. How else could one explain a father selling his baby and not telling the mother he was doing that? We can ask, “Bruno, dude, what were you thinking?” But the better question is, “Bruno, do you even know you exist?” I can relate to that; not the selling of a baby but the selling of my soul because sometimes I feel so empty as to not have one.
When all is said and done, L’ENFANT is about adult children having children and how impossible it is for adult children to properly raise children. It’s a story that is THE story of now. We no longer live in a time of the “norm” of mother and father and child in union. We live in a time of mother with child but no father and father with child but no mother and, God forbid, child with neither mother or father. There are those who say the family can only be defined as a mother and a father but, in this time of mother going one way and father going the other (or vice versa), we should be celebrating two adult mothers or two adult fathers wanting to raise a child. It shouldn’t matter the sex of the parents; all that should matter is that adult children don’t raise actual children. It’s no one’s fault when it comes to this. It’s not about blame but rather about knowing who you are inside and out before you bring a child into the world. There is no law or rule book, though, that says this has to be so. There is only the aftermath of adult children raising actual children, i.e., the adult children destroying what hope there is for their children to find their way to a happy adulthood with someday, possibly, children of their own.
I, at first, found the two leads, Jérémie Renier as Bruno and Déborah François as Sonia, unexceptional and unconvincing. But, on hindsight, I now see that they were simply giving understated performances. This has a lot to do with them playing raw and “real” characters without much color and without much flamboyance. The leads are indeed exceptional and convincing, as they stay in the realm of realistic performances without a lot of fanfare or heightened dramatic flare. They make themselves more accessible this way to us; we would be turned off if they acted “over the top.” This way, we feel them more intensely because they have shied away from “intense acting” (something, I’m afraid, as an actor, I know very little about). 😁
NOTE: When I sat down at the easel today to do the painting above from the inspiration of L’ENFANT, I drew a “stick baby,” but it seemed unreal somehow. Then, I found this yellow spiral thing and when I pasted it to the baby’s head, it made the baby three-dimensional. That seemed to work. The baby is NOT a “stick,” i.e., flat, but an actual living and breathing baby. And the baby needed to “come out” of the painting.