A Mother Without Comparison

in 63rd Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Mode Steinkjer

The winner of the Golden Bear at the 63rd International Berlin Film Festival is another fine example of the exciting developments we’ve seen in the field of Romanian film in recent years. The film also reinforces the impression of a festival edition with several strong female leading roles. In his third feature film Romanian director Calin Peter Netzer offers a harrowing drama interspersed with large quantities of black humour. Child’s Pose (Pozitia Copilului) is a tale of a family torn, as well as a harsh glimpse into a country marked by corruption and bitterness in the aftermath of Ceausescu’s brutal and oppressive regime. Netzer’s fundamental views on his country’s society have much in common with other filmmakers who have contributed to the new wave of Romanian cinema after the revolution, like Cristian Mungiu or Cristi Puiu. But in Netzer’s drama we are taken into a dark and grey atmosphere from a completely different angle.

The protagonist Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu) is a woman in her early sixties’. She is part of the bourgeoisie who made their riches in the wake of the Ceausescu regime. The gold and the jewellery is a natural part of her appearance, her clothes are characterized by conservative glitter and credit cards and her powerful network is ever present among her accessories. Whether it is because of life itself, or maybe perhaps Cornelia’s arrogant desire to dominate the surroundings, her thirty-something son Barbu is turning his back on her. The results are bitter quarrels because Cornelia constantly complains about his behaviour and about his live-in girlfriend Carmen (Ilinca Goia), who has a daughter from an earlier relationship.

One evening while she is at the opera, Cornelia gets the message that her son has been involved in an accident. He has killed an 11-year-old boy while speeding on the freeway. Cornelia puts a Shakespearean effort into supporting her son. She sees an opportunity to win him back, and in the beginning she shows no concern for the dead boy and his family, who lives in the outskirts of Bucharest. Barbu may be sentenced to fifteen years in prison, and Cornelia activates all her anger, attempting to bribe both witnesses and the police. She will even pay the boy’s parents to get her son off the hook. Developments in the story challenge Cornelia’s own sovereignty and her untimely, dominant desire to control are at task.

Luminita Gheorghiu is a well-known actor in Romania, but the part of an ever unsympathetic Cornelia in Child’s Pose is her first lead. Very much thanks to Gheorghiu, the well-written Child’s Pose, in addition to the main relationship between mother and son, offers a filthy realistic image of a country caught up in a post-revolutionary conflict between the rich and the poor. Andrei Butica’s camerawork highlights the disturbing atmosphere in which Netzer (also credited along with Razvan Radulescu for the screenplay) depicts a mother filled with complexity. When she arrives at the Police Station, in front of the parents of the deceased boy, she is shouting out a cry for her child. Who is the child in this drama? The boy hit by the car, or the immature, spoiled Barbu? Paralyzed after the accident, he turns to his mother and his weak and cowardly attempts to sort things out makes Cornelia’s love for him even stronger.

Child’s Pose is a finely tuned drama from a filmmaker who unconditionally uses the art form as an opportunity to go deep into the challenges that haunt the society of today’s Romania. It should be seen as a sign of quality that the viewer strongly longs for a hot warm shower after the last haunting scenes. Not because of the muddy, dirty and grey surroundings, but because of the premise of the story and the actors performances, Bogdan Dumitrache as Barbu among the strongest. In a Berlinale festival that captures several stories about motherhood, Netzer’s Child’s Pose remains a stand-out film because of the way it suggests an ambivalent relationship between a monstrous mother and her son — part child, part man with a beautiful body. Their relationship, left for the viewer to analyze, becomes the core of the film and Gheorghiu plays her part with superb conviction.

Edited by Steven Yates