Noted scripter Razvan Radulescu delivers his strongest screenplay for some time with “Child’s Pose,” Calin Peter Netzer’s dissection of monstrous motherly love. It’s also a razor-sharp jibe at Romania’s nouveau riche (the type is hardly confined to one country), a class adept at massaging truths and ensuring that the world steps aside when conflict arises. Sharp, multilayered dialogue and expectedly canny performances are strong enough to overcome the over-active, judgmental lensing. Though the English title lacks meaning, the Golden Bear-winning pic should pose no problem finding room on fest bills and in Romanian showcases. International sales, however, will be limited.
Andrei Butica’s nervous camera takes in everything about sophisticated matron Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu, in her first starring role): her dyed blonde hair, her entitled physicality, the glass of whisky in her hand; at her birthday party, the lensing registers her black dress (though not an immodest cut) and high heels (though not so high). The forced scrutiny is hardly needed, since it’s clear who Cornelia is, thanks to Gheorghiu’s look and bearing: a well-off member of that class that made their riches in the post-communist era and still behave as if they’re the party elite.
In this sense, the way she manipulates her family is hardly different from the way she manipulates the world. Her doctor husband Aurelian (Florin Zamfirescu) has no hope of emerging from the background, especially as their son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) is the only man she cares about. Maybe that’s because she’s lost control of him: He’s in a relationship with Carmen (Ilinca Goia), of whom Cornelia strongly disapproves, but then, what woman would be right for her boy?
The dynamics change (or rather, revert to what they were) when Barbu gets behind the wheel and kills a boy, 14, while passing another car on the freeway. Mommy and her friend Olga (Natasa Raab) race to the police station in their fur coats, where a strung-out Barbu is being held by less-than-sympathetic cops. Cornelia is in her element, bullying her way in and sizing up each character, ensuring they know she has connections. She’s already called her husband so he can use his influence with the medical examiner to fudge potentially bothersome alcohol-level results.
When Barbu’s released, of course he comes home to Mommy, not his own house (likely paid for by his parents anyway). There’s a marvelous scene when Cornelia goes to her son’s place to bring back clothes, snooping about and picking up (obviously never-opened) books she bought to improve his mind.
Much remains for her to do. Mr. Laurentiu (Vlad Ivanov), the driver Barbu passed just before the accident, wants hush money. The parents of the dead boy need to be visited to see whether they’ll press charges. Meanwhile, Barbu, boiling with anger yet emasculated and infantilized, watches his mother’s orchestration of events with growing resentment.
Radulescu (credited with Netzer for the screenplay) has presented controlling mothers before, notably in “First of All, Felicia,” but here he’s really captured the domineering nature of the breed, rendering Cornelia as a complete figure rather than simply a one-dimensional harridan.
As usual, the scribe has added small touches, like Barbu’s germophobia, to intensify character, and even the scene in which Carmen tells Cornelia about her son’s sexual problems, though unlikely given Carmen’s justifiable wariness, is believable thanks to the intelligent dialogue and superb acting from both parties. And while the script’s structure can feel too much like a template, the final scene of Cornelia’s tour-de-force performance (she’s always performing) plays out in an expertly written monologue revealing her skillful navigation of a mendacious sea.
“Child’s Pose” is a tighter film than Netzer’s previous “Medal of Honor,” and the helmer seems to have benefited from his collaboration with Radulescu. Like many of his compatriots, the director has an excellent hand in guiding actors; ironically, high viewer expectation means Gheorghiu’s terrific work is almost taken for granted.
Unfortunately, the lensing proves as much of a busybody as Cornelia herself, inquisitively looking at everything with a disapproving air that says nothing about these people or their situation. Rather than a fly on the wall, the camera behaves like a fly in the air, only occasionally settling down long enough to devote full attention to the characters.