L'Enfant, appropriately enough, opens with a baby. Its mother, barely past childhood herself, pounds on an apartment door, demanding to be left in, but is told that, while at the hospital having her baby, her boyfriend has sublet their apartment to another couple. The girl, Sonia - played with a vigorously demanding and strangely melancholy giddiness by Déborah François - eventually tracks down her boyfriend, Bruno - an apathetic con artist and petty swindler and thief, played with a detached aplomb by Jérémie Renier (the teen star of the Dardenne's first feature film, La Promesse) - and they go about the rest of their day in a rather mundane, if not childlike state of ennui. Of course that is, until Bruno sneaks away and sells their baby to black marketeers for a quick buck - responding to Sonia's wordless astonishment with the retort, "we can always make another".
As instantly recognizable as any filmmakers out there today, the brothers Dardenne, who seemingly inhabit the same mind - artistically speaking of course - bring forth their latest hectic, hand-held, uncomfortably-close meditation on the lives of the disenfranchised and disaffected of the industrial-bound urban city-ettes of Belgium (most specifically here, the small city of Seraing). As Bressonian in their reach and scope as anyone working in modern world cinema, the auteurs Dardenne (or cine Dardenne as J. Hoberman has coined them) breathe life into their films as if the fate of their characters are at stake - and I suppose, with each film seeming as if a search for redemption and possibly even grace, they are.
The brother's second Palme d'Or, L'Enfant comes off as a pococurante remake of Bresson's Pickpocket (all the way down to its nearly verbatim and inevitable climax), just the way the brother's first Palme d'Or, Rosetta, played out as a Marxist remake of Mouchette. Perhaps the heirs apparent to the crown of Bresson, the Dardennes seem to ache at their very foundations with an overtly passionate passionlessness that has not been seen - outside of a quick spurt or two every now and then from a handful of other recent filmmakers (most notably Benoit Jacquot and Claire Denis) - since the middle yeared kingdom of Bresson (A Man Escaped, Pickpocket, Au Hasard Balthazar, Mouchette).
Perhaps not as Belletristic or Augustan as the aforementioned Bresson quartet or as concupiscent as Rosetta (the brothers most rapturous film to date), L'Enfant still carries an elegant workmanship of pulchritude and an oft times difficult-to-play showing of the beatitude of the banal. [05/11/06]