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LFF 2013: 'Child's Pose' review

★★★★☆
Winner of the coveted Golden Bear prize at this year's Berlin Film Festival and now picked up for UK distribution, Romanian director Calin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose (2013) is a raw and unflinching drama, smothered by the unconditional love of a mother. Despite her privileged lifestyle and obvious material wealth, 60-year-old Cornelia's (Luminita Gheorghiu) life is far from cheerful. The one thing she longs for more than anything else in the world is for her thirtysomething, despondent and insular son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) to reciprocate the unreserved affection she has for him - which is easier said then done.

The pair hardly speak, something Cornelia blames on his girlfriend, Carmen (Ilinca Goia), who fails to live up to her standards, and whom Cornelia wholeheartedly believes is the sole reason for her son's withdrawn demeanour. However, when Barbu is involved in a tragic car accident, killing a small child in the process, Cornelia is thrust back into his life. Her maternal instincts kick in and for a brief while, its like she has her son back. Calling in favours from a plethora of eminent members of the local community, Cornelia grasps her chance to win back her beloved Barbu. Yet, despite her best intentions, this motherly affection soon begins to reveal itself as a self-serving manipulation over her beleaguered flesh and blood.

Netzer allows his camera to stalk Cornelia with such an intrusive and intense glare that the film initially feels like a police procedural, taking down all the evidence and recording every incident of this tragic event. Successfully conveying the internal anguish and fragile state of mind of both its compelling protagonist and the film's intimate supporting cast, Child's Pose is a movie that simmers with domestic conflict and almost suffocates you in its domineering sense of urgency. Whilst this efficient and highly effective approach helps immerse the audience into this fractured household, it's the phenomenal performance of Gheorghiu as Cornelia that makes them want to stay.

Fully embracing her character's flaws and eccentricities, Gheorghiu presents us will an empowered, yet fragile woman who can plough through a busy room with the destructive ferocity of a whirlwind, constantly driven by an insatiable hunger for love and respect. It's a striking performance that successfully turns this serpentine monster of manipulation and arrogance into an curiously compelling and endearing character. Am often suffocating and overbearing work, Child's Pose is also a deeply compassionate film about the emotionally crippling effects of loss - and an enlightening examination of contemporary Romanian society.

The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble

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