A superb bit of social realism, the Dardennes brother‘s "L’Enfant (The Child)" is, in a quiet way, near flawless filmmaking. The film, which hardly needs more praise, having been graced with the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, opens with a young girl out on the street holding a baby. She goes up to an apartment (hers) only to find it sublet out to strangers who won’t let her in â€” from her reaction, this isn’t anything new. She wanders through the city until she finds the baby’s father, Bruno (JÃ©rÃ©mie Renier), sparing for change. He hadn’t called or come to visit her when she was in the hospital, but she doesnâ€™t mind â€” she’s happy to see him
Bruno, a charismatic hustler, makes a carefree living begging and fencing goods he and his young protÃ©gÃ©s have stolen. He’s impulsive and charming, spending cash freely as he gets it, and we see, when he splurges on a convertible for a day and takes her out driving in it, why the girl, Sonia (in an excellent performance by newcomer DÃ©borah FranÃ§ois), is so drawn to him despite his unreliability. The two are like children themselves, giggling and chasing each other around, but we soon see exactly how unfit a parent Bruno is â€” while Sonia waits in line for unemployment, Bruno, on a whim, follows up on a tip about selling babies for adoption, and actually does it. He doesn’t realize what a terrible thing he’s done until he sees Sonia’s reaction, and then he flounders desperately to make everything all right again.
Set in the kind of grim, industrial part of Belgium the Dardennes are so fond of, "L’Enfant" is shot in natural light with a lot of skillful hand-held camerawork. Renier, who made his debut in the Dardennes’ 1996 film "La Promesse," is so good it’s hard to fully appreciate his performance until the film is over, where one can grasp the gradual extent of Bruno’s transformation and eventual his attempt at redemption.
All this being said, it’s hard to feel particularly excited about "L’Enfant." The Dardennes keep churning out masterpieces of subtle competence â€” after a while, one starts longing for them to do something grandiose and tacky, possibly based around a remake of a 70s TV show or such.
"L’Enfant" will be released in early 2006 by Sony Pictures Classics.