Tag Archives: Greed

Child’s Pose (2013)

child's pose

Ah, to be rich, dysfunctional, and morally bankrupt. In Child’s Pose, Cornelia (Luminita Keneres), a wealthy Romanian divorcee,  yearns to exercise control over her adult son Bardu (Bogdan Dumitrache)’s life. Ironically, it is when tragedy strikes and Bardu kills a young boy with his automobile while speeding and tailgating another car that Cornelia gets the ultimate opportunity to mommy him back into her grasp.

The child, a fourteen year old, is from a low  income neighborhood, and his enraged uncle threatens violence against Cornelia and her son, exclaiming, “They don’t care about us.” Who is he referring to? The poor, of course, those not fortunate enough to employ maids to clean their posh apartments and wear nice clothing and jewelry. And the sad thing is, he’s mostly right.

The fussy Bardu cares more about the needle he is injected with proceeding the accident than the loss of the boy’s life, while for Cornelia, it’s never been about the child. She just wants to keep her apathetic rich kid son out of a slam me in the ass prison and reassert her role as #1 woman in his life. Passing bribes around like hot potatoes should do the trick, right?

It’s not until Corneila, Bardu, and Bardu’s young wife Carmen (Ilinca Goia) really encounter the boy’s grief stricken family face to face that they really understand the damage that has been wrought, leading to a fleeting moment of redemption. Because it was really about the kid all along, not the money, not the rich family’s dignity, not Bardu going to  prison. Bardu was negligent and that negligence cost another family their oldest child.

This moment; when Cornelia faces the victim’s grieving parents, is heartbreaking without being overwrought. as the encounter causes both Cornelia and the parents of the dead kid to break down in tears and defeat. Along with the social commentary plot (the gap between the rich and poor in Romania, and everywhere,) we see  just how much the horrid yet tragic Cornelia needs validation from her son, who responds with hatred and practiced apathy.

 Child’s Pose is a film for patient audiences, audiences who are content to see a story unfurl, not burst forth with a crackle and a pop. There is no violence, no insane plot twists, no special effects. Instead we get a look at a diseased mother son relationship with a few clues as to how it came to be that way. The actors knock it out of the ballpark, Luminita Gheorghiu gives a mesmerizing lead performance as a woman desperate for love from her child for whom life is a series of draining barters and exchanges.

He speaks with her eyes, her face remaining an impassive mask until the film’s final minutes. The beauty in this film is although the leads are horrible people, the ending gives them a glimmer of redemption. The performances also lend humanity to people for whom money is love, and love cash to be bartered.

The washed out colors provide a grim visual scheme, as the camera lingers on the character’s faces, waiting for a reaction, maybe an outburst, in their dull, listless faces. Who is the child of the film’s title? The dead boy? The baby Bardu shirks having with his frustrated wife? Or maybe Bardu himself is the child, unwilling or unable to face up to his actions. Maybe too much exorbitant wealth and not enough real life experience makes children of us all.

Nothing shocking or tawdry here, just good dialogue driven drama about the price of thinking that since you have money and social status, nothing can touch you. For 3/4 of the movie, the victim is hardly mentioned, his name merely whispered and followed by talk of dollars and debts. Remember when Jesus said ‘it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to Heaven?’ I don’t pay much credence to these things, but the same is true here. But the corrupt, tangled family unit might be closer to heaven by the end of this movie than they were 112 minutes ago.

childsplayberlinale2013

Scarfies (AKA Crime 101) (1999)

scarfies taika waititi

Take this film for what it is (an uneven and extremely low budget thriller and morality play) and you may find yourself enjoying the effective acting displayed within and bruising social commentary concerning the self-absorption and sometimes outright shittiness of humankind. It’s Danny Boyle’s “Shallow Grave” meets “Lord of the Flies” meets early Quentin Tarantino with a distinct lack of the technical verve Tarantino showed even early on into his career.

That said, this is one of the more psychologically harrowing and disturbing ‘black comedies’ of recent times. Dark humor, or just plain dark? When the douchebag college kids glue their weed-peddling captive’s lips and hands together and force him to squat with his pants pulled halfway down and shit into a bucket, I was struck by the indignity of it all. “Scarfies” remains relatively compelling despite the almost nil production values and contemptuous cast of characters because it starts out with a somewhat sympathizable ‘what would you do?’ scenario until it takes a sudden plunge into the darkest of places, where sadistic mind games and senseless violence overtake rationality and basic human decency.

The film follows a group of college students who squat in an abandoned house that incongruously has electricity. Initially they are relatively carefree, partying and drinking like there’s no tomorrow, bonding and making love and getting high. Impulsive frat boy-type Alex (Taika Waititi) uses a monumentally awful pick-up line on the object of his affections, straight-laced Nicola (Ashleigh Seagar) and coaxes her into his bed, while Scott (Neill Rea) and Emma (Willa O’Neill) make moon eyes at each other but don’t act on their mutual attraction. Graham (Charlie Bleakley) has a crush on Nicola, but waffles around it and acts generally irritating.

It’s all fun and games until the five students open and jammed-up door in the basement of the squalid building and find a collection of pot plants, all primed and ready to smoke. After a fierce debate, they sell the lot and blow the entirety of their drug money on various electronics and personal vanities. So when the dealer (Jon Brazier) shows up volatile and royally pissed at the loss of his crop, they lock him in the basement. And that’s when the real fun begins.

Movies and literature continually show that kids are scary as hell. So why shouldn’t a group of well-groomed, outwardly innocuous college youngsters be any different? It is Alex (Waititi,) however, who makes me suspect that his brain is made of bits and bobs and cogs that render him not quite a person, at least not in the spiritual sense. Despite being good-looking, calm, seemingly ordinary, and well-liked, Alex possesses the heart of killer, a sense of apathy and sadistic glee at his misdoings, and the self-confidence to coerce his frightened roommates into obedience and stunned silence.

Graham, however, while initially appearing to be a ineffectual innocuous type (pining pitifully for Nicola and crying at the slightest provocation,) proves to be the kind of guy who held your hands behind your back as you got punched in the gut in high school. He enjoys the high-stakes excitement of having a prisoner to heckle and hurt, so he follows the smugly cruel Alex’s lead in what is essentially torture, culminating in a electronic device to control the prisoner’s behavior through electric shocks.

“Scarfies” is not really a comedy, except in the sense of ironic human indecency. However, it is an interesting study of human behavior and the innate sense of self-interest exhibited by people everywhere. “Better him than me.” How many times have we innately said that to ourselves, believing that it would be ultimately preferable that someone else take the fall for us? The acting and the story are better than you might expect, and there are a few laughs to be had among the dark sense of foreboding and transgression.

If nothing else, you’ll watch to the end hoping the ‘protagonists’ get what they deserve. Taika Waititi definitely shows early promise in a precursor to his work as a director. His not only smug and self-satisfied, but (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) downright sociopathic character’s face needed punching. Make no mistake, this movie is no masterwork of cinema, but if you like cynical social commentaries that pull no punches in regards to how they view people (superior to apes? I think not!) you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect a laugh riot or a glossy Hollywood film.

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