Written and Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Screening at FACT from 21st-27th April 2006
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film like The Child before.
I can’t work out who it’s supposed to appeal to. Is it supposed
to be entertainment? Surely no one with any compassion would want to play
voyeur with such disgusting deprivation. So is it a cry for help on behalf
of the poor and dispossessed then? No, because it fails to provide any
context and presents its characters as amoral animals. But some people
must like this kind of thing, because it won the Palme D’Or at the
Cannes festival last year.
Jérémie Renier and Deborah Francois play Bruno and Sonia,
a young Belgian couple with a newborn baby. Living on their wits, they
exist on whatever they can find or steal. He declares that “work
is for fuckers”, yet his poverty keeps him on mental and physical
duty 24/7, whether it is scrabbling for food, searching the rubbish tips
or doing a Fagin from Oliver Twist with his pre-adolescent accomplice
Steve (Jérémie Segard). Bruno seems to have no concept of
love or loyalty, something he demonstrates when selling his child for
a fistful of euros. Sonia is understandably distraught, which confuses
Bruno, because he thought "we could always make another one".
If there is anything good about The Child, it’s the fact that it
is unflinching in showing the reality of life on the extreme margins of
society. It’s quite brave really, since this is surely commercial
suicide. And it doesn’t give us any patronisingly easy answers.
But who wants to pay £5 and leave feeling hopeless, when the people
in the film would literally do anything for that fiver?
The Dardenne brothers present Bruno (and to a lesser extent Sonia) as
objects of fear rather than empathy and compassion. But in the real world
people aren’t born bad, they have badness thrust upon them. If Bruno
is a scary freak, he is a freak of nurture. It is that lack of a back
story that makes The Child so profoundly depressing. If we have no idea
what has gone wrong, how can we hope to make things better? Will there
be another film like this in fifty years time? I definitely hope there