Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Overstreet

L'Enfant

Recommended Posts

Just got back from the screening.

First impression, I came away from Rosetta and The Son more impressed, but this is indeed another amazing piece of work -- so similar in style and tone that I'm beginning to see the Dardennes' work as their own version of The Decalogue.

SDG, I'll be very interested to see what you think of this "infant in peril" story, since you loved Tsotsi so much. Personally, this film worked for me in all of the ways that Tsotsi didn't (although I highly recommend them both.)

Watching L'Enfant reminded me of watching Naked for the first time... 90 minutes watching a soul that is so lost he doesn't see that his every step takes him farther and farther from hope and safety. And, as with Naked, I'll be intereted to see how many viewers end up mustering any sympathy for the fellow at all.

Stay for the credits. Take a look at how many babies played the part of the baby. In spite of the solemn feeilng in the theater when the film ended, that got a big laugh.

Seven. Seven movies now that I've seen since 2006 began that I would be happy to include in a film festival as examples of exemplary filmmaking. And it's not even April. Amazing. I could have a full Top Ten that I'm happy with before summer even begins!


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll be very interested to see what you think of this "infant in peril" story, since you loved Tsotsi so much.

Except that L'Enfant doesn't feel like a cross between a gangster movie and a diaper commercial. ;) No hightened, violent melodrama or cute baby doodoo conundrums or close-ups of blinking eyes designed to rollercoaster the audience's emotions. The Dardenne's go out of their way to avoid such things.

Watching L'Enfant reminded me of watching Naked for the first time... 90 minutes watching a soul that is so lost he doesn't see that his every step takes him farther and farther from hope and safety. And, as with Naked, I'll be intereted to see how many viewers end up mustering any sympathy for the fellow at all.
A lot of the audience in Toronto didn't have much sympathy..if that's the right word. I don't think the Dardenne's try to evoke sympathy so much as establish a human context for moral suspense. Without wanting to sound too lofty, I don't think they want you to identify/sympathize with Bruno or his actions so much as that you recognize his human condition, which ultimately we all share.

But then, the audience at Toronto guffawed through 90% of The History of Violence, too. And the couple next to me at L'Enfant asked me why I was taking notes and when I told them, offered very thoughtful and nuanced perspectives on the film even though they weren't cinephiles and it was the only film they were seeing at the festival.

Interestingly enough, Taylor compared the Dardennes to Leigh in her review I linked to in the Rosetta thread:

"Aside from a glancing hint at the chaotic parenting Bruno himself may have received, the Dardennes refuse to prop him up with a backstory of the kind that other working class champion, Mike Leigh, spends months stolidly developing before he lays hand on a camera. Instead, the movie revs up an intense, at times almost unbearable, audience anxiety for Bruno and Sonia, as well as for their baby. By almost any measure, Bruno

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Armond White points out how Bruno's brutality is symptomatic of society at large:

"These are the children of capitalism and Coca-Cola, and their new child is the offspring of political negligence.

That baby carriage, which Bruno uses to transport his infant son Jimmy, characterizes them both as part of a morally blank generation. (Bruno

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
No hightened, violent melodrama or cute baby doodoo conundrums or close-ups of blinking eyes designed to rollercoaster the audience's emotions. The Dardenne's go out of their way to avoid such things.

Well, I don't mind having some close-ups of the infant in Tsotsi... I think that's a refreshing and unusual sight. I appreciated that they portrayed babies as messy and a whole lot of trouble without trying to make the baby cute.

That kept us from merely worrying about Tsotsi's dilemma, and kept us focused on how much is at stake. It also makes the baby a person that counts, a character, instead of just a bundle that is complicating people's lives like, say, a sack of stolen money. More than a McGuffin.

I would have liked to have seen the baby in L'Enfant more than I did. It seemed strange that he was kept obscured by blankets so much.

A lot of the audience in Toronto didn't have much sympathy..if that's the right word. I don't think the Dardenne's try to evoke sympathy so much as establish a human context for moral suspense. Without wanting to sound too lofty, I don't think they want you to identify/sympathize with Bruno or his actions so much as that you recognize his human condition, which ultimately we all share.

I'm glad they didn't try to manufacture sympathy for Bruno. He's one of the biggest idiots I've seen on the screen in a while, and he really does earn the consequences of his actions. But there are times when they do a good job of having him stumble into a heavily metaphoric situation...

especially when he's literally "down the drain" and talking to the cruel sliver of light through the grating, passing things back and forth through it.

And there's just enough evidence about his past to give you the feeling he really hasn't had any positive role model, but is perpetuating a pattern of irresponsibility.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you ever want proof that it's not the editing or the music that make a car chase truly suspenseful, here's Exhibit A.

There's a chase scene in this film that is more nerve-wracking than almost any chase scene you can name, simply because of how well you understand what is at stake.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I don't mind having some close-ups of the infant in Tsotsi... I think that's a refreshing and unusual sight. I appreciated that they portrayed babies as messy and a whole lot of trouble without trying to make the baby cute.

I don't know that it's refreshing and unusual; I see it in every other commercial on TV. You don't think Tsotsi went out of its way to make the baby cute? I felt it bludgeoned us with cuteness, and because of that the baby wasn't a character for me, it was a shameless emotional device. However, the baby in L'Enfant, if anything, is a moral device in that the Dardennes craft all the characters' actions and responses around him. The film isn't about how cute Jimmy is, it's about Bruno's inner journey.

I'm glad they didn't try to manufacture sympathy for Bruno. He's one of the biggest idiots I've seen on the screen in a while, and he really does earn the consequences of his actions.
Well, I'll just quote Manohla Dargis:

"Why make a film about Bruno? The same might be asked about Raskolnikov. Like Robert Bresson, whose Pickpocket informs L'Enfant and is itself a loose reworking of Crime and Punishment, the Dardennes are not interested in passing judgment on a grievously flawed character; that's why God and Hollywood were invented. Since there is no moral ambiguity in the act of selling another human being, there would be no point in such judgment, other than to indulge in some self-satisfied finger-wagging. Rather, what interests the Dardennes--what invests their work with such terrific urgency--is not only how Bruno became the kind of man who would sell a child as casually as a slab of beef, but also whether a man like this, having committed such a repellent offense, can find redemption.

Few other questions--how we live and whether our lives have meaning--are as important, which is why it's unsettling that few filmmakers bother to raise them."

Edited by Doug C

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's funny. I think I remember seeing that in the credits, too, Jeff, but I barely remember seeing the baby's face onscreen at all. They could have used a doll for as many times as we see it.

You can imagine why the sight of a baby-- the very appearance of which evokes instant sentiment in us-- woiuld be a problematic element in a Dardenne film, where those kinds of emotional shortcuts are to be avoided. Think even of the amount of restraint in how they show Bruno selling the child. It's tough to imagine many other filmmakers being able to show that sort of an act with as much cold dispassion as Bruno himself shows. It's just like any other transaction for him.

As far as "sympathizing with him," I found that what I felt for him really couldn't be put in those terms. Surely you realize you're in the presence of someone with a deadened moral sense when you see how readily he sells the child-- though I wonder if part of the point is why we don't see it sooner. And there's nothing to do but laugh when he says to the girl "What did I do?" But after the laughter dies down, you're still left with the implication that he really doesn't know. If that display of total destructive self-absorption doesn't inspire at least a scintilla of empathy at how debased he's grown, aren't we sort of like he is?


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't know that it's refreshing and unusual; I see it in every other commercial on TV.

Hmm. I seem to remember his face being drippy with snot, his diapers being soiled in a not-so-cute way, and having bugs crawling all over him... including in and out of his nose and eyes. I don't see THAT on every other commercial on TV! And he cried incessantly, like a real baby, for several minutes at a time, to the point where I could sense people in the theater around me getting ready to shout at the screen.

You don't think Tsotsi went out of its way to make the baby cute? I felt it bludgeoned us with cuteness, and because of that the baby wasn't a character for me, it was a shameless emotional device.

Well, I'll make my answer very restrained: It could have been much, much, much worse. I've been bludgeoned by cute babies in countless movies, and this film seemed startling in its realism and honesty about what it would be like to deal with an infant in such conditions. In L'Enfant, I felt more like the baby was, as you said, little more than a "device," because I've never encountered a baby that was so quiet and so content to be hauled back and forth all of the time.

The film isn't about how cute Jimmy is, it's about Bruno's inner journey.

Clearly. And that's fine... that's a smart move on the Dardennes' part. But in my opinion, they took things a bit too far, perhaps. You and I both have opinions about the baby in Tsotsi because the camera gave him a prominent place in the film. I have no opinion about the "cuteness" of the baby in L'Enfant because I never even got a good look at him. I can't imagine why they needed ten or more babies to play him... a doll would have worked just fine.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Snotty and soiled babies are cute to most people; in fact, they're practically definitional. And in the first 20 minutes of Tsotsi, at least, the close-ups are meant to inspire reactions of "aww...he's cuuuute" from the audience so we hope the hoodlum will be nice to the baby and be redeemed. But I like how Russ described the Dardennes' dispassionate observational technique--ultimately, it doesn't matter if Jimmy is cute or not, the moral problem is the same.

Anyway, the Dardennes told me they made sure Renier never looked at the child, but always held him against his chest. They said in one take, they had him actually look at the child, and suddenly, there was all of this unplanned emotion on Renier's face and they just knew they couldn't do it. They might very well have used real babies for the actors' benefit, not the audience's.

Edited by Doug C

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Anthony Lane wonders why they couldn't have had a diaper-changing scene.

*insert the eye-rolling thing*


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But I like how Russ described the Dardennes' dispassionate observational technique--ultimately, it doesn't matter if Jimmy is cute or not, the moral problem is the same.
From what little I know so far of the Dardennes, that does seem a very apt description of the way they might approach the subject matter, and makes me that much more eager to see L'Enfant.

At the same time, it may be worth noting that what is true "ultimately" is not always the first or only truth, and to me at least it seems reasonable to speak of a sense in which cuteness does matter, and even has a moral dimension. :) I suppose God thinks it matters, anyway; he's the one who made babies cute, or who put the cute response in our brains, whichever way you want to look at it.

FWIW -- not that I recall cuteness being a factor for me in my response to Tsotsi, or even something I was particularly aware of. What I remember, and what it seemed to me at the time Tsotsi first responds to, is its cry, another trigger that connects with a primal response in our brains. (Perhaps my focusing on the cry rather than the cuteness is at least partly a parent's perspective?)

Whatever Tsotsi is responding to, cuteness or crying, it's a response that -- without any moral reflection we can point to -- breaks through the de facto solipsism in which Tsotsi has been living, and prompts him to fumblingly grapple with the wholly unfamiliar notion of needs that are not his, of responsibility and consequences. And this too, as well as direct moral considerations, reflects the reality of the human condition.

Perhaps we might say that for Tsotsi, non-ultimately, the moral problem doesn't matter; the reality of the cute, crying, snotty, soiled baby is the same. :)

Anyway, I think there is value to both kinds of stories, and I hope to have more to say after I've seen L'Enfant.

Anthony Lane wonders why they couldn't have had a diaper-changing scene.

*insert the eye-rolling thing*

I suppose the eye roll is directed toward Lane rather than to the very idea of a diaper-changing scene? :) Personally, I wouldn't have been at all surprised if there had been a diaper-changing scene, or several for that matter, after all the mundane, hands-on doing we watched so closely in Le Fils.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suppose God thinks it matters, anyway; he's the one who made babies cute, or who put the cute response in our brains, whichever way you want to look at it.

Well that's rather begging the question.

Anyway, my contention is an aesthetic one, not a philosophical one about "cuteness." Tsotsi is emotionally manipulative in obvious ways and L'Enfant is not; I felt insulted by the former and respected by the latter.

But maybe we can leave the Tsotsi talk to its own thread--I feel like we're contrasting Life is Beautiful with Night and Fog! :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, my eye-rolling was at Lane's suggestion that the film's lack of a diaper-changing scene was an aesthetic misstep in this particular film, and not an a priori dismissal of the universal diaper scene convention. Lane also wonders aloud why we never see the baby cry or be fed, and comments pejoratively that the baby might as well be a bundle. He doesn't recognize that this might be viewed as a positive in many books, including mine. And I'm surely in at least the ninetieth percentile of loving babies and the inherent cuteness of them.

(Aside: I've been a subscriber of The NYer since August, and the movie reviews are the pages I'm guaranteed to read each week. I have yet to read a film insight by Lane that has stuck with me after I've closed up the magazine. Why in the world don't they get a heavier hitter?)

One reason why there aren't many scenes in L'ENFANT about everyday baby care and life is because the film really isn't about baby and mom past the first half. To the extent that one might wish for some indication of how difficult life is for young and immature parents, the opening scene in which the mom, directly after being released from the hospital, is trying to hold the child while also trying to make frantic phone calls at a pay phone hit me really sharply.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This thread has tapped into what is obviously a huge film demographic: people who like to see cute babies getting their diapers changed.

I for one will be watching L'enfant with a container of scented baby wipes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My favorite diaper-changing scenes are the ones where people unfamiliar with babies-- usually Lothario types-- try to do it and they get the diaper backwards or sideways and then before they're able to get it secured a thin stream of urine shoots upward onto the Lothario's Armani suit. Those ones always get me.

I'm hoping, hoping, hoping that the eventual L'ENFANT DVD release will contain a deleted scene that pretty much matches that description.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well that's rather begging the question.
...I am baffled by this comment, but no biggie.

But maybe we can leave the Tsotsi talk to its own thread--I feel like we're contrasting Life is Beautiful with Night and Fog! :)
Hey, you started it by ragging on the film just because Jeff said I loved it. :)

That was a shrewdly chosen analogy, BTW.

This thread has tapped into what is obviously a huge film demographic: people who like to see cute babies getting their diapers changed.
Hey again -- Doug is the one who seems to find the whole business cute. :D As I've been saying all along, cuteness doesn't really figure into it for me.

Carry on re. L'Enfant. I'll be back...


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey, you started it by ragging on the film just because Jeff said I loved it.

Don't be so defensive, I was "ragging" on the film because Jeff made the comparison, period.

But don't get me wrong: I've got nothin' against cuteness in the movies! (A twist on a famous Siskel & Ebert adage.)

Anyway, I saw a squirrel this morning running around with a yogurt cup in his teeth and I thought he was adorable. And I have no squirrel offspring.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Stuart Klawans has written the best review of L'Enfant I've seen yet, but it's full of spoilers.

"This patient rhythm, which somehow will continue even during a chase through the streets, has nothing to do with the ironic, distancing longueurs of a Jarmusch or Kaurismaki, or with the meditativeness of a Hou Hsiao-hsien. Like the Dardennes' close framing and tracking, their use of natural light and ambient sound, it's something more intimate--a way of clinging to the character and feeling the moral weight of his actions, even when he does not. That's why it's possible to care about inept, thoughtless Bruno, and care deeply, when at last he, too, feels the gravity."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

(Aside: I've been a subscriber of The NYer since August, and the movie reviews are the pages I'm guaranteed to read each week. I have yet to read a film insight by Lane that has stuck with me after I've closed up the magazine. Why in the world don't they get a heavier hitter?)

Funny you mention this, Russ, because my boss dropped the latest New Yorker on my desk yesterday, and I was delighted to see reviews of a movie I'd just seen (Inside Man) and one I'd be seeing within days (L'Enfant). Having heard Lane lauded by people I admire and respect, I was pleased to finally have the opportunity to read the guy's prose. (I probably could've read him online, but I'd never sought out his criticism.) I HAD read some David Denby criticism in the New Yorker and had liked it, but my impression, based on scattered comments I've heard over the years, is that he's considered the second-hitter at that magazine. Maybe Rosenbaum has gone after Denby?

Anyway, it just so happens that I brought in my copy of "The Film Snob's Dictionary" today, so I pulled it out and looked up "Lane," "Denby" and "New Yorker," thinking I'd seen entries for at least one of those three. Nope, the dictionary makes no reference to the magazine, or those writers. Which is too bad, because the dictionary's authors have a way with words, and I would've enjoyed sharing their thoughts.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Denby is one of the writers Rosenbaum disses in Movie Wars, which I know you read and liked, Christian.

Can you start a new thread for The Film Snob's Dictionary? I came across another reference to it this week and I'm intrigued...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Denby is one of the writers Rosenbaum disses in Movie Wars, which I know you read and liked, Christian.

Can you start a new thread for The Film Snob's Dictionary? I came across another reference to it this week and I'm intrigued...

I had thought about doing just that, but I'd then use the forum to type in some of the more enjoyable entries -- which might get me flagged for copyright violation. So I think I'll pass.

I understand that you want to keep the L'Enfant discussion on track, so I'll wait until I've seen the DVD (tomorrow, I hope) to post here again.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The DVD???

I'm sure a few quotes from the book wouldn't be too offending to the copyright police...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Don't be so defensive, I was "ragging" on the film because Jeff made the comparison, period.
Oh, I wasn't. I only meant that the pro-con comparison-contrast began in your post, not that it matters.

Anyway, I saw a squirrel this morning running around with a yogurt cup in his teeth and I thought he was adorable. And I have no squirrel offspring.
Yeah, see, that's WHY you thought it was cute. :D If you HAD squirrel offspring, you'd be like, "Put that thing down, don't you know how germy human litter is?"

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The DVD???

A screener.

I hope the local PR people aren

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Your edit is all that needs to be said, Christian. You're a working professional writer, so of course there's no reason why you shouldn't receive screeners; there's no telling when it will come in handy.

(Incidentally, a little birdie tells me L'Enfant may appear in the line-up at Flickerings this summer.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...