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Home: Dubai Film Festival 2005: Day 5: L'Enfant

Starring: Jérémie Renier, Déborah François, Jérémie Segard
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Sonja (Déborah François) climbs the stairs to her apartment, knocks on the front door and to her surprise discovers a couple inside the house. She learns, to her distress, that her irresponsible, self centered boyfriend Bruno has rented it to the couple for a few days, while she was away giving birth to their son. She carries the child all the way down again and goes searching for Bruno, eventually finding him at a street signal shamelessly asking for loose change from drivers who've stopped.

It is easy to sense the tolerance that Sonja has for him and the same magnitude of neglect that he has for her and their new born child. This is not a film lamenting on the difficulty of parenting or failed relationships, although the title may lead you to make such an assumption. It is a deceptively simple morality tale told from the point of view of two very passive observers (in this case the director brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne) in the tradition of unsophisticated yet profound tales such as 'The bicycle thief'.

In a very short span of time, we understand that both parents are themselves little more than delinquent youths, frivolously chasing each other, laughing, spending their stolen money on impulse buying. Through it all, she clings to the baby, for her the very representation of joy, delight and maybe even a new beginning, for him a liability and an asset; an asset that can be sold, for more quick money.

There is no defining moment in 'L'Enfant' which transforms Bruno into someone more conscientious, but we can sense that such a transformation has occurred by the time the events that comprise the running time of the film are through. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the film is the level of humanism it maintains in every segment. One such moment occurs right after a very well staged chase sequence in which Bruno and an accomplice, a little boy, try to execute a grab and run but find themselves unexpectedly pursued. To avoid being caught, they dip into an icy cold river, only for the little boy to be afflicted with muscle cramps when he emerges from the water soon thereafter. That kind of well thought veracity in filmic situations is a rarity in today and L'enfant is all the more better because of it.

You may, as a viewer, question its lack of script momentum, after all, not a lot really happens, but what it lacks in content dynamism, it more than makes up for in depth and drama. Watch it to immerse yourself into lives that are not just absorbing to watch, but faith restoring as well. - by Faizan Rashid

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