Director: Călin Peter Netzer
Cast: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Ilinca Goia, Natasa Raab, Florin Zamfirescu, Vlad Ivanov
Duration: 112 mins
Rating: M – Mature themes and coarse language
Release Date: 15 May, 2014
Stephen A. Russell for Thelowdownunder says: “Netzer’s unflinching portrait of a poisonous mother is mesmerising. Gheorghu is magnificently monstrous as manipulative matriarch Cornelia.
Romanian writer/director Calin Peter Netzer announced himself as a fascinating talent with his feature debut, 2003’s Maria, a bleak vision of the lengths one impoverished single mother will go to to protect her children. Motherhood is, again, at the forefront of this year’s Child’s Pose (Pozitia Copilului), which scooped both the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival and the FIPRESCI prize.
Cornelia, Child’s Pose’s matriarch, is more of the monstrous kind, as conveyed with toweringly entitled menace by the incandescent Luminita Gheorghu. After an abrupt opening in which a documentary-like camera judders almost with fear as she lords it over her friend, extracting evidence of all that goes on in her emotionally distant son’s life, it’s clear this bleach blonde and bejewelled woman is not to be trifled with. Celebrating her birthday in a sheer black dress, whiskey in hand, she holds court over a fawning flock, unapologetically emanating something of the old Communist ruling class ways.
Her complete sway over her obsequious husband Aurelian (Florin Zamfirescu) is unequivocal, but her power over weak-willed son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) has been disrupted by his relationship with divorced mother of one Carmen (Ilinca Goia). While Barbu’s attentions might have been swayed, this is one battle that Cornelia will not lose. She’ll destroy anyone who comes between this mother’s love for her son.
The upset is temporarily righted when a speeding Barbu attempts to overtake another car on the exit ramp of a busy freeway, inadvertently killing a 14-year-old boy crossing at that exact moment. A fur-draped Cornelia sits alone in the audience of an intimate opera recital when he is taken to the police station, and it’s left to her fellow furred friend Olga (Natasa Raab) to drag her from the crowd. They immediately drive to the station and all but take over proceedings, name checking Cornelia’s connections and prepping Aurelian to dispense with any possible negative blood results from a clearly germ-phobic Barbu.
Unsurprisingly, Barbu retreats to his mother’s house once released, leading to a fantastic scene as his mum lets herself into his apartment, snoops around and then packs his stuff, having left a key in the door to make sure Carmen cannot disturb her. When Carmen does, indeed, come home, Cornelia sits in silence feigning ignorance, even thought she’s clearly betrayed by her rather irritating mobile phone ringtone.
From there Cornelia will do all in her power to clear her son’s name, including paying off the other driver and emotionally (and financially) manipulating the grieving, and notably poorer, family of the dead boy. Watching her work her nefarious scheme is at all times compelling and often utterly horrific. Meryl Streep’s conniving matriarch from August: Osage County has the L-plates on in comparison. Particularly magnificent is a devastatingly honest attack on Carmen, as the extent of Barbu’s inability to deal with human contact is laid bare. Hardly surprising with a mum like his, and let’s just say that a supremely creepy oiled backrub scene between mother and son will take a lot to un-see.
Between Gheorghu’s incredible central turn and Netzer’s unsentimentally brutal hold over unravelling events, there’s a raw power to Child’s Pose that grips you vice-like in her thrall, particularly in the closing scenes. Netzer makes incredible use of a car wing mirror in a deceptively simple cinematic triumph. Aided on screenplay duties by Razvan Radulescu (First of All, Felicia), the dialogue is razor sharp, just like Cornelia’s tongue.”
The Washington Post says: “Few viewers will come away from “Child’s Pose” without strong feelings about Cornelia and her behavior — whether they see it as pathological or an example of political allegory at its most shrewd. But even the most passionate judgments might be chipped away after the film’s amazing final sequence, which the director begins in a cramped home kitchen and ends by masterfully framing a pivotal encounter in a car’s rearview mirror.”
The New York Times says: “All kinds of monstrous mothers rage and rail in the movies, including those who love too little or too much. In Douglas Sirk’s 1959 melodrama,“Imitation of Life,” Lana Turner plays one type, a selfish white woman who’s blissfully indifferent to her child’s needs. Yet the more disturbing mother is played by Juanita Moore as a black domestic who smothers her own daughter in so much goodness that it’s no surprise that the girl flees. At the end, the saint’s daughter throws herself on her mother’s coffin; it’s a wonder she doesn’t leap in front of a train. In “Child’s Pose,” a drama with a story as cold, merciless and inevitable as a tomb, escape proves every bit as futile.”