February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Conscience-Impaired Youth

Jérémie Renier plays the feckless Bruno.

It’s difficult to understand why L’Enfant (The Child), written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, won them a second Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year – it’s a nice little film, well-made and interesting but not sublime, as Cannes’ top prize should be.

Filmed in a gritty Belgian city (the Dardennes are Belgian), L’Enfant tells the story of a charmingly feckless 20-year-old named Bruno (Jérémie Renier), a petty thief by profession, whose 18-year-old girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François) has just given birth to their baby, Jimmy. While she was in the hospital, Bruno, always on the lookout for any way to make a few euros, sublet her apartment, so Sonia and Jimmy end up in a homeless shelter for the night.

Bruno shows only the vaguest interest in Jimmy, but he is obviously happy to have Sonia back – their lust for each other is convincingly expressed in playful roughhousing. They are so playful, in fact, that little Jimmy seems far more mature than his parents.

When one of his fences tells Bruno that there’s a market for babies, he doesn’t react, but we’re not surprised when the sale is made the very next day. Bruno is shocked at Sonia’s reaction when he casually tells her what he’s done. “We’ll just make another one,” he says. But Sonia’s extreme distress is too much for him to bear, so he sets off to try and recover the baby, setting in motion a series of events that will affect the lives of everyone around him.

Jérémie Renier is just right as Bruno, a well-

meaning charmer with a screw loose. With his youthful insouciance, he thinks he knows it all, but he is soon crushed by forces more powerful than he is. L’Enfant shows us a slice of the world he inhabits, but by the end of the film we are none the wiser for it.

French critics seem to have seen a social message in the film: a disadvantaged young man is forced to sell his baby to survive, as one article in the Nouvel Observateur stated, but that is a total misreading of the film. The directors make it perfectly clear that Bruno sells his baby not to survive but to get a bundle of money so he and Sonia can live it up for a while – it is established many times over that whenever Bruno gets any money, he blows it immediately – renting a fancy car for a day or buying Sonia a leather jacket to match his. If anything, this is a psychological portrait of a conscience-impaired young man, though the movie offers absolutely no explanation of how he got that way.

L’Enfant will be released as The Child in the United States in March 2006.

Heidi Ellison

© 2005 Paris Update

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