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With: Jérémie Renier, Déborah François, Jérémie Segard, Fabrizio Rongione, Olivier Gourmet
Written by: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Directed by: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
MPAA Rating: R for brief language
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 05/17/2005

L'Enfant (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Problem Child

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The winner of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's latest is a realistic portrayal of a trio of brutal lives. We meet young, blond Sonia (Déborah François), freshly out of the hospital with her newborn child. She spends a bit of time seeking her boyfriend, Bruno (Jérémie Renier), and spots him begging for money in the streets. They check into a shelter for the night, but Bruno leaves to take care of business, fencing a few items stolen by his adolescent partner, Steve (Jérémie Segard). Not long after, Bruno is charged with taking the baby for a walk, and he decides to sell it. When Sonia (understandably) throws a fit, he tries to get the baby back.

The movie's most harrowing scene comes when Steve and Bruno attempt a mugging, fail and wind up hiding, chest-deep in freezing, filthy water. The younger boy's panic during this scene is so frighteningly real that it puts to shame the rest of the "realism" L'Enfant wishes to convey. On that level, L'Enfant is a bit of a disappointment from the acclaimed brothers who won a previous Palme d'Or for Rosetta (1999) and won our San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award in 2003 for The Son.

While The Son used realism to tell its tale of a woodshop worker who, for secret reasons, becomes fascinated by a new student, it also used a specific filmic style. Not unlike Bresson, the Dardennes used certain unusual angles, chosen to guide their story and to suggest our emotional reaction. L'Enfant simply goes for straight-ahead realism of the type that De Sica and Rossellini championed in the 1940s. Such a thing is admirable on one level, but fraught with troubles on another (is anything captured by the camera truly real?). L'Enfant is certainly a skillful, engaging movie, but a step backward for this talented team.

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