New York Magazine


L'Enfant (The Child)
  Release Date: 03/24/06 (Future Release)

Starring: Jeremie Renier, Deborah Francois, Olivier Gourmet, Fabrizio Rongione, Jeremie Segard

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Rating: (R)
  Running Time
  95 min
  Sony Picture Classics
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Introduce a helpless infant into a movie and the stakes immediately rocket, which is what happens in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s exhausting L’Enfant. As in the Belgian brothers’ Rosetta and The Son, the protagonist is unreadable for a while and unlikable for much longer; it’s only when his conscience rises to the surface that he comes into focus. Bruno (Jérémie Renier) is an unemployed petty thief who routinely exploits young kids to do his dirty work. His lone accomplishment seems to have been fathering a boy with his girlfriend, Sonia (Déborah François)—an accomplishment he definitively negates by impulsively selling the child, without the mother’s knowledge, to a ring of illegal adoption brokers. Living in an avaricious fog with no larger awareness, stirred only by sex, (tacky) clothes, and booze, Bruno appears to be blindsided by Sonia’s response: tremors, uncomprehending gurgles, unconsciousness, inconsolable grief, and borderline catatonia. As the young man wanders around trying to process what he’s done, he discovers that the road back into his girlfriend’s arms is more arduous than any he has traveled before.

L’Enfant won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, and it’s certainly the Dardennes’ most accessible film. Their handheld camera catches tiny flickers of emotion that few filmmakers come near; you feel as if you’re watching the movements of a soul. Bruno’s final act, which has nothing to do with his own child, is psychologically and poetically right—every act in the film has a mythic resonance. The child is not just the baby, and not just the children Bruno exploits in his thefts; it’s also Bruno himself. All the same, it’s not as if L’Enfant has a great deal of moral complexity. I mean, selling one’s child: Bad. Hiring moppets to rob people: Bad. Learning the meaning of sacrifice: Holy. And wholly predictable, alas.— Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine