From the first frame until the very last the camera obsessively centers itself around Claudia, the jewelry-bedecked, domineering, fifty-plus matron of an upper-class Romanian family. We circle around Claudia, the film’s central axis, as she imperiously navigates her middle-aged indolent son, Barbu through crisis after he kills an impoverished child with his luxury car.
The narrative principle of Child’s Pose is simple and time-worn – create realist characters and set adversity against them to change their relational constellation. Now that Barbu has committed a negligent act of manslaughter, he finds himself being obliged to place himself once again under his mother’s purview, thus providing Claudia the opportunity to reestablish her lost stranglehold over her son.
Child’s Pose‘s jittery camerawork, drab hues, veracious lighting, location shooting and class emphasis clearly define its poetics as that of the social realist film. And within this artifice of realism, we watch Claudia steer through the various legal/technical obstacles as she works to purchase Barbu’s legal vindication as well as his clear conscience. With a lucid comprehension of the system’s workings, Claudia takes the opportunity to act in lieu of her ineffectual son (thereby regaining control over his being), bribing the examining doctor, paying off witness, even apologizing to the victim’s family for him.
Transparency of character is the foundation stone of the social realist film. By establishing the obvious archetype – the Spoiled Child, the Domineering Matron, the Henpecked Husband, the Wealthy Aunt – the social realist film accomplishes its main task of rendering visible. Our ability to place these characters on the class matrix, as well as the dynamism of character inter-relations mobilize the film, activating its potential for social commentary.
Child’s Pose, however, doesn’t develop its social network (and not even the family unit) but rather only the single character of Claudia, a characteristic more relevant to the portrait than the realist drama. By simultaneously attempting to establish itself as a portrait, it undermines its development in as a social realist drama.
Although the basis of social realism is transparence, the portrait’s nuclear core is mystery. In cinema, like in painting, the portrait draws its potential energies from the unknowability, and more importantly unportrayability of its object, and the portraitist creates force by drawing a tense filament in his work from the realm of the invisible into the realm of the visible.
Transparency, well-defined psychology, and predictable behavior, all supporting elements of the social realist drama, have disintegrating effects on the portrait. In Child’s Pose nothing is present because everything is shown, and without spiritual material, this portrait is stripped of its depth. (Contrast with portrait films in which the mystery of the protagonist augments as the film progresses – P.T. Anderson’s There will be Blood, Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo, Hiroshi Inagaki’s Ricckshaw Man, Jacques Demy’s Lola).
With its poetics stuck between two chambers, each step Child’s Pose advances in one direction is an annulment of progress in the other. As a social realist film Child’s Pose fails, being so busy rendering Claudia visible that it effaces all others. Instead of laying bare a societal issue through critical regard, the film occludes the lower-class who would define the significance of this critique. The impoverished are cinematically effaced by Cluadia’s overwhelmingly monolithic presence. Lacking an aesthetic, a voice, an image, the others become less than objects to be perceived by Claudia. They are mere effects whose artistic purpose is nothing more to promote the wealthy matron’s internal drama.
As the film trudges first one way then another, with its aesthetics proposing social realism, and its narrative proposing a portrait, Child’s Pose poetic vacillation leads it astray into artistic limbo. Lost in the nebulosity of its philosophical hesitation it overearnestly attempts to impose the portrait of an archetype, without taking effort to construct the force of spirit. Stuck between the first-degree transparency of being, and the second-degree artifice of character, Child’s Pose delivers a naively positivist image of cinema as art of the real.
Pozitia Copilului (Child’s Pose)
Director: Calin Peter Netzer
Cast: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Florin Zamfirescu