As the winner of the Golden Bear for Best Film at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Child’s Pose (Pozitia Copilului, 2013) lands in theaters with high expectations. Those prove a bit lofty to reach, but that doesn’t make this latest offering from the Romanian New Wave a disappointment. It’s a gripping, tense if slightly off balance intimate family drama that also offers an insightful look at the connection between the new moneyed elite and graft and corruption in post-Ceaușescu Romania.At the center of the story is Cornelia, brilliantly portrayed by Luminita Gheorghiu, an architect and member of the new bourgeoisie who from the outset doesn’t elicit much sympathy. She’s cold, calculating self-absorbed and well-connected; government ministers attend her lavish birthday parties. She’s also an obsessively overbearing mother estranged from her only son, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrach), a thirty-something slacker and coward who’s unable to face responsibility of any kind.
When Barbu runs over and kills a 14-year-old boy and is about to face manslaughter charges, Cornelia uses the accident as a way to try to both save her son and win back his affections. She immediately goes on the offensive, calling in favors at ministries and consulting with lawyers and doctors who also have speed dial connections with friends in high places.
Those wheels are already spinning into place by the time she struts, fur on her back, into the provincial police station where Barbu is giving police his statement. There, Cornelia’s haughtiness and lack of empathy is put vividly on display where she barely notices the mother and brother of the boy her son just killed. Not long after, we watch her discuss with her husband the possibility of bribing the young boy’s poor family. More charm, lies and deceit follow.
Gheorghiu is so good and her presence so sweeping here that her performance simply overpowers the other characters; as a result they’re never fully allowed to develop beyond the periphery the strong lead has restricted them to. That has a big impact on the beginning of the film’s second half, testing the audience’s patience. As does the ceaseless nervous motion of the camera. But don’t give up. The final scene, fiercely powerful, is worth the wait.