Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Child's Pose (Pozitia copilului)

CHILD’S POSE (Pozitia copilului)          B                  
Romania  (112 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Călin Peter Netzer

Netzler’s film fits the template for social realist Romanian films, which are void of all pretense and are unsparingly bleak accounts of modern life.  Despite winning the top Golden Bear prize at the Berlin Festival, the problem is the unambitious scope where there are no transcending moments that rise beyond what we’ve already seen in previous Romanian films, and while it’s extremely well made, featuring a blistering lead performance, ultimately that’s not enough as we learn nothing new.  Since the end of the Nicolae Ceauşescu era after the 1989 Romanian Revolution, Romania has been struggling with a power vacuum, having to replace the totalitarian grip the country was under for nearly half a century since the Communists seized power in 1947.  Used to barbaric leaders who rule with an iron grip, every ounce of effort was needed simply to survive under the ruthlessly harsh austerity measures, political repression, and authoritarian government that under Ceauşescu was the most Stalinist police state in the Eastern bloc.  While the nation has transitioned to a democracy, old wounds heal slowly, as the country remains entrenched by a bureaucracy of corruption and inefficiency so beautifully exposed in Romanian New Wave filmmaker Cristi Puiu’s scathing and uncompromising  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), the Un Certain Regard winner at Cannes.  That was followed by the success of Cristian Mungiu’s equally harrowing 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile) (2007) that took the Palme d’Or top prize at Cannes, one of the first Eastern European films to challenge the entrenched patriarchal hierarchy that is so prevalent in Eastern bloc nations.  All one has to do is look at Russia under Putin, where it seems like they continue to seek a Stalin authority figure who is seen as a bold leader, where the nation remains under a dominating ruler with unlimited power, where the army, police, legislature, and judicial system all fall under his command.  It is a Stalinist hierarchy that shapes this Romanian film, as the lead character, Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu), is a successful set designer and architect now retired and well into her 60’s, where the height of her career was established during the Ceauşescu years, where she was accustomed to giving out orders, standing up for herself, being strongly opinionated, and moving in the upper echelon of society, draping herself with expensive furs and gaudy jewelry.  While she is a female, she survived by being more manly than most any male figure, as people still cower in her presence, as she’s a dominating authority figure who just happens to be female. 

Once we see Cornelia in action, we realize this is a film about privilege, as everything she does reeks with the idea that the world revolves around people like her, as everyone else is supposed to move out of her way, as she’s one of the special ones that matters, while the surrounding peons are entirely insignificant.  This is her world view, brought up under heartless conditions, where she routinely calls in her well-connected contacts, people in powerful positions that matter when she wants to get things done, leaving nothing to chance.  Her way is power by brute force, where she’s used to forcing others aside to get her way.  As a result, things are usually done her way, as after awhile it’s simply easier that way, but that doesn’t make her very likeable, especially to her own family where she’s separated from her husband, and her grown son rarely calls her any more.  When she learns her son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) has been involved in a car accident where it appears he was speeding to pass another car and accidentally hit and killed a young boy who was attempting to run across the freeway, she uses this opportunity to take control over her son’s life.  Using all the powers at her disposal, she’s on the phone with a police commissioner when she storms into the police station, accusing the police of heavy handed tactics, questioning their every move while also ordering her son to change his written statement so he doesn’t admit to speeding.  Completely ignoring the relatives of the 14-year old victim, a poor family living on the outskirts of town, Cornelia instead guides the police along with their procedures while getting constant instructions from her phone contacts.  Taking full advantage of a bureaucracy that favors the wealthy and the well-connected, she hovers over the proceedings like a hawk while protecting her boy, unphased by whatever she has to do to clear his name and avoid jail time, even if that means altering the police report and paying off witnesses to change their witness statements.  As the process drags on with blood tests, coroner’s reports, and a car inspection, the police voluntarily begin providing helpful information, like where the victim’s family lives, suggesting an appearance to the funeral would be seen as beneficial in the eyes of the court, as would an offer to pay for the funeral.  In Cornelia’s eyes, nothing is left to chance, her role as a mother is to take care of the problem.

While Barbu is initially in shock, emotionally paralyzed and helpless, and sleeps things off in his mother’s home, blood tests are negative, showing no alcohol content, but tests do indicate he was speeding.  When Barbu comes to his senses, he wants out of his mother’s house and out of her clutches, believing he can handle the problem himself without her interference.  Of course the little dear doesn’t know what he’s saying, as mother knows best, so she purposefully goes against his will, arranging a meeting with the driver of the car he was trying to pass, as evidently they were both driving luxury vehicles, each believing theirs was faster than the other, and with the right monetary inducement, he might be inclined to change his witness statement.  This kind of oily shenanigans only exists with people who have the financial means to play along, where it’s an example of what you’ve worked your whole life to be able to attain, to be in that kind of rare company where you have the power to alter facts, police reports, expert vehicle analysis, and even witness statements.  While there’s a brutally honest scene with Cornelia and Barbu’s girlfriend Carmen (Ilina Goia), nothing is as remotely despicable as a late visit to the family of the deceased, where Cornelia brings her son, but with his pampered upbringing, he doesn’t have the nerve to get out of the car.  Instead, she pays her respects, which one can pretty much guarantee will be one of the most uncomfortable moments experienced in a theater all year, as Cornelia never acknowledges the family’s pain, never takes responsibility, but insists it was an accident where no one was to blame.  She spends her whole time ignoring the real problem staring them in the face and instead invents some idealized, made-up scenario about her perfect son and what a bright future he has, choking back the tears as she hands the family a wad of cash hoping this incentive will persuade them to withdraw their legal case against her son.  While she may be an ugly monster, she typifies how things are done.  She is the system, as this is how the ruling class operates, with ruthless precision, only looking out for themselves, never showing the least amount of interest in who’s really at fault here, or showing the slightest hint of responsibility, where it’s not in their interest to show any concern for the plight of others.  In the Ceauşescu era, the power elite showed nothing but contempt for the poor masses of people and routinely trampled upon their rights as a way of getting ahead and advancing their careers.  With the introduction of democracy and capitalism, some things never change, as bribery continues to be the price of doing business, while empathy is not a word found in the Romanian dictionary.   

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