In “King Lear,” Shakespeare wrote that a thankless child is sharper than a serpent’s tooth. In that vein, Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu) feels the pain of the serpent’s bite throughout”Child’s Pose,” a film by Romanian director Calin Peter Netzer.
As a wealthy architect with connections in high places, Cornelia has a significant amount of power at her disposal. But her reach doesn’t extend to her only child, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), as far as she’d like.
Barbu is over 30, so Mom should really leave the guy alone, and her friends tell her so. Even her husband calls her “Controlia” to her face and tells her to lay off. She won’t. To Cornelia, Barbu is still a baby who needs constant care and supervision. When her attempts at closeness are thwarted, she hides her hurt, retreating behind designer dresses and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke.
“Child’s Pose,” released in Romania as “Pozitia Copilului,” is a riveting piece of filmmaking, born of a local industry that has released some astounding gems in the last decade. (For starters check out “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” by Cristian Mungiu.) Romanian films reflect the country’s political climate — as it struggles with the legacy of its Communist Party and the atrocious history of the Ceausescu regime — and tell the intimate, personal stories of a people that have suffered too much, too long.
Netzer trains the camera on Cornelia’s attractive but ravaged face, which is, in itself, a testament of the battles she fought in an unforgiving world behind the Iron Curtain.
All Cornelia wants is appreciation and affection, though she has no idea how to get those without being freakishly manipulative. Barbu, on the other hand, is so ready to be free of his mother, but he’s too wimpish to cut loose. When he accidentally runs over a child and is arrested for manslaughter, he has a chance to take charge of his life. Unfortunately, Cornelia steps in to “help” Barbu and niggle her way into his apartment and his relationship with girlfriend Carmen (Ilinca Gola).
None of the people you’ll see in “Child’s Pose” are likable. Though there’s much talk about love and family bandied about, everyone in Cornelia’s circle actually hates her and looks for ways to use her. Cornelia herself flashes power and money around like a police badge. She assumes that the parents of the child run over by Barbu can be bought with cash and, the terrible thing is, she’s right.
Netzer and screenwriter Razvan Radulescu paint a bleak portrait of life in Bucharest — where backstreets are full of puddles, women worry about food and parents are too poor to pay for a child’s funeral. Cornelia can reap the privileges of the richest 1 percent, yet her life is joyless. At the core of this movie is a psychological brutality that shrouds her story.
“Child’s Pose” won the coveted Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival but that’s not why you should see it. Watch it because a little bit of all of us is identifiable in every scene.