24 January 2008
L'ENFANT (The Child) - Directed by The Dardennes, 2005, Belgium/France
It is a rare when you come across a film today which refuses to take up any pretentious moral position or directly ask the audience to sympathise with characters that have no clear ideological agenda. Directed by the Dardennes who have possibly become the most important film makers working in Europe today, L'Enfant focuses on yet another deceptively simple neo realist premise; the selling of a child as though it was just another commodity within the consumerist landscape in which we live today. The refusal to offer any motivation or Hollywood style goals for characters particularly for Bruno illustrates the minimal and counter cinema approach that has come to define much of their work. Inspired by the humanist and profoundly spiritual film making of the French master, Robert Bresson, the Dardennes have constructed yet another neo realist masterpiece which is remeniscent of the early work of Ken Loach, and in particular recalling arguably Loach's greatest piece of social realism, the brilliant and overlooked Raining Stones. In my opinion L'Enfant is a film which builds towards an ending of such force and power that it elevates the film to a transcendetal plane which very few have the capacity to achieve. Though this moment at the end at which Bruno breaks down can be interpreted in an overtly sentimental way, it retains such an impact because for nearly ninety minutes the Dardennes manage to contain the emotions of Bruno, never showing us anything but apathy. It is the only point in the film at which we see Bruno as a human being and the emotional outpouring of his relative failure as a father is profoundly moving and undoubtedly genuine. The Dardennes are real masters at stripping away at the artifice of cinema and their sensitive and deeply humane cinematic approach finds a parallel expression in the films of many of the Iranian new wave directors like Abbas Kiarostami. The opposition to music, stylised lighting techniques, dialogue, explanations, motivation, narrative coherence and closure are all characteristics which have come to define film makers who are concerned with characters who exist on the margins of society. Though the Dardennes are extremely dismissive of the ideological content of their films, you cannot but help notice how L'Enfant is an intelligent attempt at trying to ask such a pertinent question, the one about the value of human life within a post industrial contemporary society that seeks to trivialise and demean the suffering of daily human existence experienced by the working class and those who exist on the fringes of despair. L'Enfant is cinema. L'Enfant is reality. L'Enfant is life.