Luminita Gheorghiu plays a mother who will do anything to keep her son from prison in "Child's Pose." Credit: Zeitgeist Films
'Child's Pose' Director: Calin Peter Netzer Stars: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache Rating: NR 3 (out of 5) Globes
Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu), the centerpiece of the Romanian New Wave number “Child’s Pose,” probably wouldn’t mind being compared to Joan Crawford. She’s acts more wealthy than she is, and soon acts like a worse mother than she is, too. Like Crawford in “Mildred Pierce” — the movie, that is, which added a murder plot not in the James M. Cain source — she will do anything to protect her adult son, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache). Good thing, too, because in the film’s first 15 minutes it’s revealed he’s accidentally run over a boy who was running across a highway. He wasn’t drunk, but he was going 124 mph, in an attempt to pass another speeding car.
Against the wishes of police, the slain child’s working class family and Barbu himself, Cornelia throws herself into the fray. She wants to use her connections to keep her only son out of jail. She’ll even go down questionable routes, including asking the other driver (Vlad Ivanov, the great, reliable scene stealer of modern Romanian cinema) to change his statement.
The first half is very Romanian New Wave, marrying naturalism to a satirical bent that makes it seem ever so slightly arch. Everyone, as in every Romanian film, is prickly, if not rude or even scary. The dead kid’s uncle threatens to smack Barbu with a bat, then goes to his trunk to produce the weapon. But the upper middle class gets it the worst, with Cornelia embodying how money and power can make anything go away.
But at least here, money and power can’t make everything go away, and the second half willingly storms into less assured places. The quiet and weary Barbu, long sick of his overbearing mother, starts to rebel, forcing Cornelia to soften. This leads to a meeting between the parents that bobs and weaves as characters work through their messy feelings, struggling to find a compromise that could never be satisfying to all.
What starts off as broad melodrama becomes, for lack of a better term, more “real.” Then again, Gheorghiu — one of the greats of Romanian film, notably her co-starring work in the terrific “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” — never quite plays Cornielia as a rich monster. She holds back just enough, balancing drive with a vulnerability that makes her character’s evolution believable when it comes. Filmmaker Calin Peter Netzer is a better cowriter than a director; his handheld camerawork can be sloppy, darting everywhere, willy nilly, in an attempt to create immediacy. But the material and the actors are strong enough to withstand a degree of filmmaking incompetence.