The Dardenne Brother’s follow-up to The Son, The Child is stylistically similar but the brothers use their techniques to a different end. Here, The Child visually perpetuates a world grounded in realism, captured through long, flowing takes, but presents characters that refuse to see the very reality the audience is being shown.
The main couple of the film, Bruno (Jérémie Renier) and Sonia (Déborah François), live day to day, with no consistent sense of security or property. It’s into this situation that the two have a child. Instead of bringing trouble into their relationship, it continues on as a happy and vicarious life where the two live in the moment and think little about the repercussions of having a kid.
This should make the characters frustrating to watch, especially given how foolhardy the pair seems to be. Bruno makes what little money they have through petty theft and he often turns around and throws it all away on luxuries they can only have for a moment, like a convertible he rents for the day. And Sonia is foolishly passive and somewhat blind in their relationship, unable to see Bruno for what he is.
These characters become endearing, in part, because of their childlike qualities. The playful and vicarious romance of the young couple and their bright outlook in what many would consider an undesirable situation makes their flaws also what makes them resilient and enjoyable to watch. To them, the world is still the playground of childhood, a universe in which the simplest pleasures still bring great joy.
However, the film does force these characters to grow and mature, but it takes it time, introducing the conflict late into the film and then using it to pressurize and stress the strength of this relationship. It’s naturalistic storytelling, one in which the moments flow and build over time instead of being built around massive turning points where everything clashes.
This is because the world and circumstances of the couple isn’t necessarily the thing that changes. Throughout the film they are surrounded with the same struggles and tensions, they just tend to ignore them until slowly they are faced with the reality of their situation. As outlandish as one moment seems, it makes perfect sense in how the characters have been approaching their problems up to that point in the film.
The Dardenne Brother’s give the audience this reality long before it catches up with the characters. The lingering takes immerse the audience in the world, but given that it takes a while to be eased into the characters, the initial moments of alienation give the audience a moment to understand what these characters cannot realize where this road is leading them.
The Child is perfectly suited to the nature of cinema. Its ability to capture realism and yet depict the characters as lost in their own fiction complements the inherent tension of film, a representation of reality that is its own fiction. Of course, the whole film is a fiction, but that never stops it from feeling real even if in the back of the audience’s minds, they know it’s a fiction.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing