I can almost guarantee you have never seen a film by two Belgian filmmakers, the Dardenne Brothers. Why? Their films receive extremely limited release despite critical praise and a small devoted following.
Each of their previous films, from "La Promesse" to "Rosetta" to 2002's "Le Fils" are a journey; we follow a couple of people over the course of a few days in their lives until the final, emotional, gut-wrenching climax. "L'Enfant" ("The Child"), their newest film and the winner of the 2005 Palme D'Or at Cannes, is no exception.
Sonia (Deborah Francois) leaves the hospital with her newborn son, Jimmy. We first meet her walking through the streets looking for Bruno (Jeremie Renier), her boyfriend and the father of the baby. They find him panhandling at a busy intersection. Sonia learns that Bruno has sublet her apartment for the next few days (she wasn't going to need it in the hospital, right?), so they bed down at the local shelter. That evening, Bruno leaves to meet with his fence and sell her a stolen video camera. Bruno's main source of income is a group of petty thieves, all children, who steal things, sell them to him and he sells them to the fence. Any money he earns is quickly spent; on a new jacket, food if he is hungry, a rental car. While waiting in line for benefits, Sonia tells Bruno he should take the baby for a walk through the park. Bruno realizes everything can be sold for a price. He takes the baby to meet his fence.
The Dardenne Brothers have a unique style. They basically set a camera in the middle of the scene and record the non-professional actors living their character's lives, taking Realism to an extreme. During one scene, we watch Sonia move through her small flat, making a cup of instant soup for her dinner. This probably sounds excruciating to some. Why would you want to watch this? Why should you? The filmmakers realize this method of filmmaker literally thrusts us into the middle of these lives, we become active participants. The consistent exposure to these seemingly mundane events helps us to become a part of their world, observing little details and nuances throughout. During the same scene, we see Sonia is furious at Bruno, a time bomb ready to explode. When this inevitably happens, we realize how mad she really is.
As we watch these two very young people move through their lives, surviving, barely, the story is interesting and emotional. But the most memorable moment in a Dardenne Brothers' film always comes at the end. Everything until that point has been in support of the final moment. Because we spend so much time with Bruno and Sonia, the final moment has to be a very memorable one. We have to feel all of their pain, the work, the heart ache and mistakes leading to that point. In "L'Enfant", the final moments are very good, but they are not as memorable as the previous films from this duo. Good, but not outstanding.
"L'Enfant" isn't so much about the child Bruno and Sonia share, but about the other children in the film and their level of maturity.
"L'Enfant" is a very good film, better than most, and worthy of your time. Search for it at your local independent theater or repertory house. Hopefully, you will then decide to experience their other, slightly better films on DVD.