AFI Fest: Child’s Pose (★★★★)

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Child's_Pose_posterBy the time Child’s Pose ended all I could do was say “Man, that was a great movie.” Throughout the nearly two-hour running time I was awed by the various twists and turns employed by the narrative, the fantastic acting, and the complexity that a film like this can employ. Calin Peter Netzer has created a dynamite film that’s not only one of the best films of AFI Fest, but of the year.

Admittedly I went in blind and am therefore very reluctant to give away too many plot details, but for the sake of the review I will at least divulge the general premise. Cornelia (Luminița Gheorghiu) and her son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) have an antagonistic relationship, due to his wild desire for independence and her overbearingness. However, when a car accident gets Barbu into some serious trouble, Cornelia decides to step in and make sure that it’s all taken care of. This starts a twisty path of coercion, morally dubious dealings and relationship drama that threatens to tear an already estranged family apart.

While that brief synopsis sets the stage, the film is much more than just a familial strife drama. There’s incredibly nuanced discussions on classism, gender roles, and the complexities of the judicial system. That’s a lot to pack into a film but the script is so deft at handling these topics, while managing to reshuffle the deck that the characters have been dealt. Child’s Pose also manages to be a slice of life narrative, moving with a languid yet efficient pace through the film. Near the end of the movie, the script takes time to examine 4 major conversations, slowing down just enough to allow them to play out in real-time, in all their uncomfortable glory.

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Giving the script life are a wonderful cadre of actors, who put their all into these parts. Luminita Gheorghiu, words probably won’t do justice for just how great she is as Cornelia. Gheorghiu is given a really tough task, she has to play an overbearing mother, a high society woman who has the means to drastically change the investigation into the accident, and who isn’t the most likable woman. And yet she takes the entire narrative on her very capable shoulders and carries it home, delivering a fantastic and engaging performance from beginning to end. When her tough shell breaks near the end, you totally feel for her, despite some of the actions. Matching her step for step are a group of strong supporting actors. Dumitrache’s Barbu plays like the most ungrateful person who has ever lived, and the movie is stronger for it. He fully realizes his character’s petulance, but imbues it with enough vulnerability that you can empathize with him. The surprise of the film might be Ilinca Goia’s Carmen, a woman who seems so weak and unassuming, till she’s not. The scene between her and Gheorghiu is a master class of upending audience expectations.

Child’s Pose is one of the most complete movie experiences a filmgoer can have. With it’s ability to capture the economy of the moment and the urgency of the overarching narrative, it lifts itself from being a simple noir or family drama into being something special.