Written by Zac Platt.
For better or worse, Child’s Pose (Pozitia Copilului in its native Romania) is a film that shoves you in amongst its characters. Its decompressed pace and clinical focus on the minutia of the plot allow your frustration to naturally mirror the cast. As they all bicker and try to control their situation, you find yourself at the ground floor of all their tension. This approach awards the film an undeniable authenticity, but by deliberately irritating the audience and making the cast generally unlikable, Child’s Pose at times becomes a chore to watch. Despite excellent acting and strong character work, the closer you get to the seemingly inevitable climax, the less you care about what’s going to happen. But, just as you begin to tire of the whole experience, the third act comes along and knocks the wind right out of you. It all suddenly comes crashing together and you find yourself overwhelmed by the film’s emotional complexity, retrospectively illuminating the entire experience as the journey to this unforgettable moment of cinematic majesty.
Directed by Calin Peter Netzer, Child’s Pose immediately thrusts you into the world of Cornelia Keneres (Luminita Gheorghiu), an aging mother bitter about her dwindling relationship with her 30-something-year-old son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache). From the word go we see her for the obsessive and controlling woman she is, desperate for a way to bring him back under her wing. When Barbu accidently hits and kills a young boy running recklessly across the highway, she sees her opportunity and immediately starts throwing her wealth and influence around to keep him out of prison.
From its abrupt opening it’s clear Child’s Pose is not a film interested in cinematic flair. Netzer is clinical in the way he tells his story, almost presenting it as a documentary. The handheld camera bounces around and zooms in and out as it sees fit, making you fully aware you’re an observer to this case study and not a part of it. There is merit to the approach, but more often than not it makes the shots feel amateurish and poorly thought out. This is especially true on the more complex sets, where the film cuts back and forth from every possible angle, demonstrating a lack of directorial guidance. The same rawness is evident in the script, but the drudging pace does prove a little more successful than the film’s style in putting you in Cornelia and Barbu’s mindset. Even so, the tension is never quite as high as the film seems to insist, leaving the tone feeling somewhat artificial.
Flat as it can be sometimes, there’s enough spice in the class commentary and dry humour sprinkled throughout the film to give it a bit of flavour. Despite how easy it is to hate the overbearing Cornelia, Gheorghiu’s flawless delivery ensures the character’s indifference and contempt serve to entertain rather than grate on you, as they do her family. Barbu, on the other hand, takes far too long to define himself as anything other than an ungrateful brat, which makes it difficult to care whether or not he is indeed going to go to prison. As his impending trial looms over the film and promises to serve as a climax, you become less invested the more you get to know him. But just as you start checking your watch, the film takes a turn and ditches the obvious courtroom setting, instead hinging it all on something intimate and profound.
Suddenly, it all starts to click and the true vision of Child’s Pose makes itself known. The power and craft on display in the final act elevate the film so much it could almost feel like you were watching a different movie if it wasn’t so brilliantly intertwining Cornelia and Barbu’s arcs with the film’s subtextual backbone. With a gentle hand, Gheorghiu takes you to a more vulnerable corner of Cornelia, breaking your heart and reminding you that all of her obsession comes from a place of love. Faced with the very real possibility that she could lose her son, we see her fight with everything she has to protect him. And just when all feels lost, Netzer pulls out his secret weapon and brings the whole film together in one perfect wordless moment before proudly and abruptly ending the film.
In truth, the concept could probably have worked as a short film and spared us a lot of time in limbo. While it can be a long road to get there, the final sequence and bold full stop validate all the time spent stewing his characters and subtext. If Netzer was able to find a way to keep the film a little more interesting as he laid his ground work this could have been a home run. But even with it being such a long tunnel, the light at the end burns so bright it proves more than enough to make Child’s Pose something really special.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10