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This Belgian outing written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne introduces us to Bruno (Jeremie Renier), a fun-loving, childish petty criminal.   He’s no tough; indeed, his partner-in-crime is a prepubescent schoolboy.   His girlfriend Sonia (Deborah Francois) has just had his baby boy, Jimmy.   Biting and swatting each other playfully while Bruno drives, roughhousing on the grass, the young couple enjoys the hand-to-mouth life.   Sonia shares Bruno’s immaturity but whereas she’s a fine mother, loving and responsible, Bruno will barely look at the baby, who’s an irrefutable pink announcement of his advent at adulthood’s doorstep.   So he takes the baby for a little walk and, acting on a tip, sells his newborn on the black market.          

With its hand-held camera, naturalistic acting and absence of score, one could point to “L’Enfant” and say, “This is realism”.   We always have a sense of life extending beyond the frame thanks to the Dardennes’ artful use of open form mise en scene and sound.   For example, having deposited the baby in a room of a seedy building, Bruno stands in an adjacent room; we listen with him to the approaching footfalls of the unseen man coming to collect his baby.  

The Dardennes’ achievement is to reveal Bruno’s essential innocence.   He sells Jimmy for a big payday but also in a naïve belief that he’s giving the boy a good home.   When he tells Sonia that he doesn’t understand what he did that’s so bad, he’s telling the truth.   “We’ll have another one,” he says by way of consoling her.   The film is ultimately about Bruno’s redemption, but more than that it’s about his learning to understand that he’s in need of redemption in the first place.   In the final scene he’s finally able to refer to Jimmy by name, thus waving “adieu” to the fancy-free life.

- May 29, 2006

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