L'Enfant (The Child) review

"Only fuckers work." Good point well made, but Bruno (Renier) is a fucker of another variety. Or at least he would be in the hands of other filmmakers - writers/directors with less skill or compassion than Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

Who else could give us a protagonist who sells his own baby for a fistful of Euros, yet not make him abhorrent? If anything, he's a good guy - eyes feral, but devoid of malice, as he ekes out a hand-to-mouth existence on the keen streets of Seraing, the abrasive steel town that backgrounds each of the brothers' up-close-and-personal dramas. In Bruno's world, everything has a price; he scrimps and scams for 50 here, 100 there. A child is valuable merchandise. Bruno's not ready to be a father, so why not trade - a bundle of 'joy' for a bundle of cash. Besides, his girlfriend can always have another...

Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes 2005 (the Dardennes' second triumph after scooping top prize with Rosetta in 1999), L'Enfant plays to the converted. Don't care for La Promesse, Rosetta and Le Fils, mini-masterpieces of stripped down social realism? Then don't bother with L'Enfant, another artfully artless drama that employs handheld camera, natural lighting, twitchy jump-cuts and a source soundtrack (all that traffic!) to chase veracity with the doggedness of Dogme. It's a film where a fist fight is over in a couple of unchoreographed blows and where a scooter chase is covered by one camera latching itself to Bruno's pinched face, his hair streaming in the wind - and yet L'Enfant buzzes with an urgency rarely seen in Hollywood thrillers, taut and tense.

The Dardennes' latest has been tagged as a film about greed and redemption. But it's not as black and white as that. Necessity and a clumsy lunge at redemption come closer to the truth, as Bruno survives the only way he knows how before scrabbling towards the light. Spare, unsentimental and highly recommended.

Raw performances in a restless docudrama. A Palme d'Or winner with dirt under its fingernails, it makes most Hollywood thrillers seem, well, fake...

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