American movies apply a pretty straightforward technique to devastate an audience: build up the emotion; accelerate the cutting; maybe throw in some shouting; add a swell of music; boom, you’re there. Things apparently are different in Romania. Maybe Romanians are a more patient people, or we’re seeing the remnants of a culture where, not all that long ago, one had to steel oneself from overt expression, lest the unwelcome interest of the Securitate be drawn. In any case, in films like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, the process is incremental rather than exponential, digging deeper and deeper into the story, exposing the stakes so gradually that it isn’t until the final credit roll that you’ve realized you’ve had your guts ripped out.
In Child’s Pose, Luminita Gheorghiu is Cornelia, a successful and well-connected architect. Those connections will be sorely tested when her son is involved in a car accident that winds up killing a child, and Cornelia finds herself intervening with police officials, lawyers, witnesses and members of the victim’s family, all in an attempt to keep the man out of jail.
A lot of the film rests on Gheorghiu’s shoulders, and her performance is restrained, yet powerful. Working her way through successive levels of corruption — everyone, it appears, has his or her hand out — dealing with a son whose personal life is by and large a mystery to her and who exhibits a profound indifference to his own fate, Cornelia presents a portrait of power and privilege deployed almost instinctually for the sake of family. Director Calin Peter Netzer keeps things expectedly spare and focused, to great effect — one indelible scene has Cornelia meeting with a witness who contentedly puffs on an electronic cigarette as he negotiates the price for altering his testimony; another has the mother going to sit with the grieving family as her son waits outside in her car, incapable of confronting those he’s hurt. Part exposé of an endemic form of corruption, part examination of the dysfunctional relationship between a strong-willed mother and her estranged son, Child’s Pose demonstrates once again that you don’t have to raise the volume level to stir the soul; sometimes, when things are the quietest, that’s when your heart is most demolished.