March 26, 2006

The Daddy Types Review: L'Enfant


So I pawned the kid for a couple of hours and went to see the latest Belgian dad-sells-baby-on-black-market film, L'Enfant. While it's about as feel-good as a Belgian black-market baby film can get, it was not my favorite film the Dardenne brothers have ever made. Maybe I'm just becoming accustomed, but it felt pretty conventional to me, whereas earlier films had an obliqueness or opacity, a refusal to just splash drama or emotion across a scene--hell, even a refusal to show the faces of the actors most of the time--that felt a little absent.

Of course, a film about a callous street thug selling his newborn son is a melodramatic minefield, so the directors deserve credit for not turning out a "Tonight: A Very Special Law & Order: SVU." [And that credit would be the Palme d'Or, I guess.]

Anyway, two things: I kept thinking the kid, Baby Jimmy, sure sleeps well for a nine-day-old baby. Turns out he was played by 21 different babies--they're listed in the end credits, but not on imdb--and now I imagine this on-set nursery, which the baby wrangler kept fully stocked with kids of the right size and coloring. That way, there was always at least one or two sleepers available to shoot a scene. It's the kind of production detail you'd never think of until you found yourself shooting a movie starring a newborn baby. And apparently, there was one doll, hopefully used in the motor scooter scene.

The other thing comes from the directors' statement in the production notes, and it's more about the inspiration for the story:

This film probably dates from a day during the shooting of our previous film, The Son. We were in Seraing, Belgium on Rue du Molinay. In the morning, afternoon and evening, we saw a girl pushing a pram along, with a newborn baby asleep inside it. She didn't seem to be going anywhere in particular--just around and around with the pram. We have often thought back to this girl, her pram, the sleeping child, and the missing character: the child's father. This absent figure would become our story...A love story that is also the story of a father.
L'Enfant website []

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