On the heels of presenting Catherine Deneuve as an impossibly beautiful 70-year-old in “On My Way,” the North Park Theatre brings in Luminita Gheorghiu, a Romanian actress who wears every minute of her 60-plus years on her determined face.
Opening Friday, “Child’s Pose” – nothing to do with yoga here – is a tight, infuriating drama about a privileged woman bulldozing her way into a terrible situation to manage her neglectful adult son out of the punishment he deserves. Audiences hopeful that the restored North Park would honor its “art house” potential will cheer this award-winning film for its intensity and dedication to the inner workings of the human conscience, even when that conscience is conveniently silent.
Cornelia (Gheorghiu), a designer and architect in the free but casually corrupt atmosphere of modern-day Bucharest, enjoys all the luxuries her success can buy her in the post-Soviet world. Expensive cars, a beautiful home, important friends and a child who wants nothing to do with her.
Her pain is buried so deeply under her anger that it is hard to feel sympathy for Cornelia. She blames her son’s girlfriend, she blames her husband, she blames everyone but the spoiled young man who drives his car too fast, too aggressively, and winds up running down and killing a child.
That is Cornelia’s signal to act, her chance to force Barbu, her son, to appreciate her.
Arriving at a distant police station in a sweep of fur and purpose, Cornelia reins in her self-importance long enough to avoid offending the dead child’s family before reaching her son (Bogdan Dumitrache) and making her intentions clear. In front of the local police, who are suitably cowed, she instructs her son to rewrite his statement about the accident. He was NOT going 140 km, she says. Put down 110.
Barbu, her “poor boy,” sullenly does as instructed, and it isn’t long before the police are bending to her will, asking for and being granted “favors,” and even advising her on who to strong-arm next. Cornelia is well on her way to her goal.
In scene after scene, Cornelia’s need to control is wickedly revealed: A conversation with the housekeeper she conveniently shares with her son becomes an interrogation; a visit to get clothes from his apartment invades his space and privacy; and then there is the genuinely creepy massage she gives Barbu under the pretext of putting medication on his back.
We see her at the best of her worst when she meets with the other driver involved in the crash, an arrogant man who feels no responsibility and who comfortably sizes up Cornelia and nearly matches her in his selfishness as they negotiate his price for lying. The sterile mall cafe setting adds a normalcy to the exchange that is chilling.
“Child’s Pose” won the Golden Bear at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival and took home Romania’s version of the Oscars for its acting and screenplay.
And that is where director Calin Peter Netzer puts his attention. All the money in the production is seen in the trappings of Cornelia’s life – her home, clothes and cars – and not in any fancy sets, innovative lighting or clever cinematography. Almost documentary in style, it looks like it could have been filmed with a cellphone.
We are, in a sense, holding that phone, riding along with Cornelia as a companion – let’s not say friend – and tracking the action. We may not care much about her or how things work out, but we do watch in wonder at how she gets there.
Starring: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Ilinca Goia and Natasa Raabames
Director: Calin Peter Netzer
Running time: 112 minutes
Rating: Unrated, but PG-13 equivalent for profanity and adult conversations.
The Lowdown: An affluent Bucharest woman tries to use her son’s car accident as a way to get control of his life by keeping him out of jail. In Romanian with subtitles.