CHILD’S POSE is another splash in the Romanian new wave that began with THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU (2005) and reached a high point when 4 WEEKS, 3 MONTHS AND 2 DAYS scooped the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007. Austere, realist, blackly comic and often incisive about Romanian society (both before and after the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu), the movement has garnered a reputation for penetrating dramas and outstanding performances.
At the centre of CHILD’S POSE is Luminita Gheorghiu, who inhabits almost every frame with toxic intensity. A prominent actor in Romanian cinema, Gheorghiu gives a mesmeric performance as Cornelia, a peroxide-blonde pit bull in furs who moves in the upper echelons of Romanian society. But she’s dragging emotional baggage that eats away at her bourgeois lifestyle: she has lost all power and influence over her wayward son, Barbu.
When Barbu causes a tragic accident involving the death of a child, Cornelia seizes an opportunity to claw back her hold over him through a methodically planned series of negotiations, manipulations and pay-offs. We are soon immersed in a dark psychological drama of justice, morality and corruption. Gheorghiu imbues the imperious and ostensibly unpleasant Cornelia with just enough empathy to keep us enthralled by her twisted scheming.
On the face of it, her actions are entirely understandable. As the gory details of the accident emerge, Cornelia pores over the mechanics of the collision in order to draw the lines of defensive battle against the manslaughter charged levelled against her son. Isn’t this what any mother would do to save her baby from the punitive clutches of the law?
An ulterior motive suggests otherwise. Cornelia wants to restore her oppressive, smothering authority over her son. “Parents find their fulfilment in their children,” she informs him. It’s an odd, desperate comment, since Barbu has pretty much disowned her. And why wouldn’t he? She’s a caustic, poisonous presence in his life.
Razvan Radulescu delivers a tightly plotted, engrossing script, keeping us firmly inside Cornelia’s tense headspace while allowing the wider social commentary to unfold around her. With claustrophobic direction by Calin Peter Netzer, the handheld camerawork takes us uncomfortably close to the action, from the fractured family relationships to the class differences that seethe beneath the surface, always threatening to flare up.
A messy emotional climax is on the cards. Cornelia’s only child is on the line. Like any domineering mother, she’s prepared to do whatever it takes. But the question remains: is she doing it for her son, or for herself?