In a typical Hollywood movie, Luminita Gheorghiu's manipulative mother would be the story's villain, the antagonist to a heroic reporter investigating how a powerful and politically connected woman pulls strings to help her adult son avoid the legal consequences of killing a boy in a car collision.
Here, in Calin Peter Netzer's gritty drama "Child's Pose," Gheorghiu's character, Cornelia, becomes the central figure as a member of Romania's entitled class elite, for whom ordinary laws and morals don't particularly apply. Especially when they involve a mother's overprotective instincts for her son.
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We meet Cornelia in her element at a party of the well-to-do where her bold body carriage and hunter-like instincts establish her as a political animal. She later confides how her loser son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) has cut her out of his life and has treated her terribly.
Yet, when she discovers Barbu has been arrested on charges of accidentally killing a boy with his car, Cornelia -- with faint support from her understandably weenie spouse -- goes into control overdrive.
She uses what connections she has (including helping an officer aid a friend in a construction project) and tries to direct Barbu in the art of minimizing blame, even though he insults his parents and wants none of their help. (She coaches him to come to the boy's funeral, which she offers to pay for.)
Anyone from America, especially Chicago, will recognize that the scenario in "Child's Pose" is not unique to Romania's ruling class.
Netzer directs "Child's Pose" with razor keen attention to realism and detail, except that Andrei Butica's constantly shifting camera pulls us out of the moment by calling attention to its presence, as if handled by a clumsy documentary crew. (Any second, you half expect someone to put an angry hand over the lens.)
Not a single character bends for our sympathies or campaigns for our support, and for that reason, "Child's Pose" marks an extremely brave work of remarkable realism.
Sometimes a story doesn't have a hero, just a sharklike survivor with an undeserving son.
"Child's Pose" opens at the Music Box, Chicago. In Romanian with English subtitles. Not rated; for mature audiences. 112 minutes. ★ ★ ★