Posted by: John Adams | July 31, 2007

Movie Review: “L’Enfant”

L’Enfant“L’enfant” (French for “The Child”) is a Belgian film directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne that explores the lives of two poor, parentless youths in a depressed Belgian steel town–Bruno, an amoral petty thief who squanders what he steals on expensive luxuries, and Sonia, his girlfriend who has recently given birth after what seems to have been an unintended pregnancy.

Bruno, a lowlife who wastes nearly everything he steals, sees his girlfriend’s newborn baby as a chance to recover his losses. He sells the child to an adoptive couple on the black market, a choice which bothers his conscience very little at first (“We’ll make another one,” he tells Sonia), but which begins to do so after reaping immediate consequences in the real world.

Although Bruno manages to get the child back, he faces Sonia’s fury and shattered trust in him. She collapses in shock when he first tells her what he has to be done and has to be taken to the hospital. During her hospitalization, she tells the authorities what he has done, putting Bruno into hot water with the police. He has a lot of experience with lying, and he bluffs his way out of this consequence, but there are tougher pipers to pay–soon, he is being roughed up by thugs hired to recoup the losses the adopters have suffered.

Like a dog returning to his vomit, Bruno returns to thievery to escape from this much more serious bind. He steals a scooter and hires a 12-year-old (due to the fact that juveniles cannot be incarcerated in Europe) to swipe handbags from old ladies, but the plan quickly goes awry when the lady they have robbed gets a passing motorist to help her pursue them. Escaping proves to be more difficult than they had thought–Bruno and his young accomplice are eventually forced to hide under a bridge in frigid water to escape. By the time that it is safe to emerge from hiding, the boy is hypothermic. The police find the boy and manage to save him from freezing and Bruno escapes with the money.

At this moment, the movie takes a sudden turn. Instead of escaping with the money, Bruno’s conscience finally catches up with him. He turns himself in to the police, an act which effectively puts an end to his cycle of sin. The movie closes with Sonia and Bruno weeping together in a prison visiting room.

I would not recommend this film to everyone. The directors have an aggravating preference for slow, lingering shots that last twice as long as they need to. This technique, paired with the film’s already sparse dialogue, adds a great deal of “dead space” to a feature-length film that probably would have been much better had it been cut more efficiently.

Bruno about to sell his babyDespite these flaws, however, the movie piqued my interest because unlike many films today, it managed to portray a world of real moral consequences–in other words, the world as it really is. Bruno’s insouciance in regard to his actions is quickly shattered by Sonia’s rage, and we begin to see evidence of real guilt appear in him for the first time. From that point on in the movie, his guilt begins to dog him until he finally realizes that he must pay in some way for his crimes. The closing scene, where he and Sonia are reconciled, portrays another piece of truth, that reconciliation can never fully happen until sin is acknowledged and the consequences shouldered. Grace follows repentance. There is no peace in Bruno’s life until he acknowledges that he has wronged a great number of people.

One would initially think that the “child” referenced by the title is the baby, but this is not true. The true “child” in the film is Bruno, a fatherless young man who learns the hard way that sin really does bring death into one’s life. The directors walk a tightrope throughout the film, empathetically revealing the causes of Bruno’s condition–the social failings of his family and the consequent lack of moral guidance that have obviously led him to be the way that he is–without ever suggesting that those actions do not merit the consequences that they incur.

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Responses

  1. Sounds like a good movie, nice pic by the way!

  2. The whole movie I was thinking, Bruno is not good enough for Sonia, yet he still has the ability to woo her and make her happy–far more than anyone else could.

    Where Bruno lacked maturity, he made up with impulse; and where he lacked common sense, he contained raw love.

    I think that is very much a reality in relationships. The guy usually has just enough in him to captivate the girl, yet not quite enough to keep her.


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