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Rental Unit: L' Enfant


Technology is making movies like "L'enfant" commonplace. Another near identical example in the past year was "Keane." Despite advances in digital video, it seems the new wave principle still applies: Take your camera out on the street. Though that's not exactly where "L'enfant" begins, it's where it spends most of its time, and the streets never looked calmer or worse off.

The movie concerns the young and destitute couple of Bruno (Jérémie Renier) and Sonia (Déborah François), who have recently brought their progeny into the world in the tender form of the newborn Jimmy. Bruno is a small-time hood, a petty thief and self-made fence. He'll sell anything, whether it's his, yours or mine. Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen: Not a half-hour into "L'enfant," he sells little Jimmy.

Sonia was in line for some kind of social service when Bruno got his bright idea. When he breaks the news to her, she's in disbelief. When he produces the money, she faints. The moment is pathetic, tragic and a bit funny. Not for Bruno, however, now friendless and penniless, he finds himself in a quicksand of trouble.

The premise might be a bit far-fetched, but there are some fascinating characters here. Bruno, boyish and acne-scarred, is curious and impressively resourceful, but with a drastically limited point of view, almost simian in his startling lack of awareness for the consequences of his actions. He's a go-getter without the wherewithal of where to go or what to get. But his surroundings also go a distance to make him surprising. The urbanite locale he inhabits is not seedy, strewn with litter or misted with noirish steam. It's bright and banal — shops, schools and suburban-bounded all the way, making Bruno appear all the more disheartening.

Directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne have avoided the clichéd marks of a film like this. Though their camera is handheld at intimate lengths from the action, somehow it refrains from being intrusive. Though the two unfortunately betray their stark vision by the end, "L'enfant" should be applauded on many levels, not least for being a torchbearer of small, intimate stories told naturally and well. S

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