They say that poverty is a disease. And in the Belgian-French co-produced L'Enfant a.k.a The Child (2005), a film that won the coveted Palm d'Or during last year's Cannes Film Festival, it most certainly appears so.
In L'Enfant Bruno (Jeremie Renier) wanders the streets of a town where life is a never-ending game of survival. Each day the young man whose home consists of two extra-large paper-boxes cheats, steals, and sells whatever valuables he can get his hands on. At the end of the day he counts the profit, pays his on-and-off underage associates, and heads to the nearby bistro.
Sonia (Deborah Francois), Bruno's sweetheart, has just given birth to a lovely child. At "the spot" by the river, an abandoned pile of rocks and scrap metal, where Bruno hides his paper-boxes Sonia can hardly wait. She is eager to show Bruno their child.
In a few days Sonia and Bruno will head to the city hall where among other things the couple will have to register their son. While Sonia waits in line Bruno will take his son for a walk in the park. In a matter of hours he will sell the child to an unknown couple.
A gut-wrenching and intense story about poverty, survival, and human misery L'Enfant is a film that does not ask any profound questions. Nor does it teach any moral lessons. It simply shows its audiences how poverty destroys human beings.
Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, better known as the Dardenne Bros, whose highly-acclaimed Rosetta won them the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999, have perfectly captured the dark side of the modern world we live in. Bruno, a man who hardly understands what the terms right and wrong entail, only knows that each day he must earn. Money-the more, the better!
Shot on location with a hand-held camera L'Enfant looks utterly impressive. Jeremie Renier who back in 1999 teamed up with French director Francois Ozon for his Les Amants Criminels delivers a performance that will certainly be remembered long after this film enters the annals of Belgian-French cinema-his look of a man who has given up all hope begging for forgiveness truly is one of the most soul-shattering acting jobs I have seen in quite some time.
Similar to Michael Haneke's recent reality-shocker Cache (2005) the Dardennes' L'Enfant is totally devoid of any music. What the camera is concerned with in this film is only the young duo of lovers and there is absolutely nothing here that softens their misery. Scene after scene the audience sees how Sonia and Bruno slip deeper and deeper until they finally collapse under the pressure of extreme poverty.
I do not quite know if there is a writer out there who can do this film justice. Like everyone else who seeks and reads film reviews I always want the reviewer to give me a general idea about what to expect from a certain film. And leave a bit of its magic untouched. After all I want to be entertained just as (supposedly) the reviewer was! And, I also want to talk and write about great films that I have seen, I want to share what I have uncovered.
So, when I finished watching L'Enfant I was convinced that no matter what I write about the Dardennes and their film it will be a poor and undeserving attempt to describe genius. Sounds cliché? Sure, we both agree it does! Yet, for once I am not ashamed of using one. L'Enfant truly is something special!!
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's L'Enfant comes with a sparkling video presentation that should meet the quality standards of even the most demanding of viewers. This progressive anamorphic image provided by Sony Pictures retains an excellent degree of contrast, very strong and natural color scheme, and delicate film-grain during the night scenes. Furthermore, there isn't a tiny speck or dot that I could spot here and truly from the moment you pop this disc into your DVD players you will be tremendously impressed by its visual strength. To sum it all up I can only wish that all foreign films are presented in such an immaculate fashion.
How Does the DVD Sound?
L'Enfant is presented with a French 5.1 track which clearly matches the outstanding quality of the video presentation. There is some imbalance noticeable during certain scenes (dialogs) yet I must assure you that this is how the film sounded in the cinema where I saw it. Due to its "live" construction (hand-held camera, long unedited continuous shots, etc) occasionally you may notice that certain scenes are slightly louder than other but that is how the film was intended. My only concern here stems from the fact that Sony Pictures continue to use the rather large for my taste yellow subtitles. Can we please have normal white subtitles in normal font? With optional English and French subtitles.
Unfortunately there isn't much in terms of extras on this disc. In fact the only piece of supplemental material you will find here is a rather large interview with the Dardenne Bros. where they share their thoughts about this project, recall how it was made a reality, and draw some partial parallels with their previous work.
An outstanding film, highly-decorated at numerous international film festivals, L'Enfant comes with a rock-solid presentation in the audio-video department. It would have been superb if this film came in a lavish double set with plenty of supplemental material yet I am somewhat grateful to have it as it is. After all in recent years I have come to realize that no matter how impressive a foreign film is rarely do we get a double set with plenty of extras from the so-called majors to celebrate it. That is just reality!! This being said I think that for those of you that are not yet region-free this disc meets just about all R1 expectations you might have: DVDTALK Collector Series.