DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: L'ENFANT

Wednesday 21 March 2007


L’Enfant (2006) dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Jeremie Renier, Deborah Francois


The Dardennes Bros are two Belgian filmmakers known for their neo-realist/documentary approach to filmmaking. Though similar in style to the Danish Dogme 95 films (ie. the Celebration), the Dardennes’ films differ greatly in the types of stories they tell. Whereas the Dogme films tended to portray middle and upper class society, the Dardennes deal strictly with the underclass street youth.

L’Enfant is set in the mean streets of an unnamed Belgian working class city (the Detroit of Belgium). Bruno is a young petty thief and small time hood. Sonia is his pregnant girlfriend – they’re very much in love, though more of a youthful puppylove. With only a few shots the Dardennes establish the environment and the characters perfectly – we know this story, it’s Dickensian and timeless – characters with nothing in their pockets, nothing to lose and no other thoughts than how to get through the day.

When Sonia goes comes home with a baby, Bruno registers little reaction. She may have well come home with a loaf of bread, which would be more exciting to him because he could eat it. The baby is more a burden to Bruno – not only the added cost of feeding and clothing it, but the loss of attention from Sonia.

Bruno decides to sell the baby to the black market. Using underground connections he finds a buyer and is taken to an abandoned building to exchange the child. Bruno never actually meets his buyers. He places the child in an empty room, then leaves. When he returns the baby is replaced with money. Bruno’s carefree attitude about the child is terrifying, and the actual exchange of the ‘goods’ is like an adrenaline shot of street-realism.

Bruno comes home with the money, and expects Sonia to be happy for the sale. She instantly faints. His naiveté is hard to believe, but that’s what makes the character so interesting. Bruno is too innocent to hate, he’s not malevolent, he just doesn’t know any better. And Jeremie Renier’s performance make it utterly believable. The remainder of the film tracks Bruno’s search to retrieve the child.

But Bruno’s journey doesn’t end with getting back his child. He retrieves it because he has to. He does it for Sonia, not for himself. Bruno is harder to crack – the street has made him soulless, unable live beyond his primordial childlike instincts. It’s not until the final moments of the film do we realize what Bruno is looking for – it’s redemption of his soul, something which he didn’t lose, but in fact never had. Something the street has deprived him of.

The Dardennes style is unmistakable. Their camera is always solely fixed on the characters, in this case, Bruno. It follows behind him, over the shoulder almost as his point of view. It stops when Bruno stops and it looks where Bruno looks. And after 10 mins we become invisible participants in Bruno’s adventure.

L’Enfant deservedly won the Dardennes Bros a rarely achieved second Palme D’Or at Cannes. It’s the fourth in a series of similarly themed films (“La Promesse”, “Rosetta”, and “Le Fils”). All films deserve to be discovered. Don’t rent them all at once. All are downbeat and somewhat depressing, but truly rewarding on all emotional levels. Enjoy.

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