As with Rosetta and The Son (the latter of which has grown on me tremendously since my original, somewhat critical, review), Belgian auteurs Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s L'Enfant (aka The Child) is another rigorously austere masterpiece infused with intense humanism. The Dardennes’ documentary-influenced stylistic trademarks (watchful hand-held cinematography positioned behind characters, drab on-location sets, no musical punctuation) are once again deftly employed in service of a tale of painful salvation, this time concerning a petty thief named Bruno (Jérémie Renier) and the moral and spiritual crisis that accompanies his decision to sell his newborn son Jimmy on the black market behind the back of the kid’s mother Sonia (Déborah François). What ensues is pathetic, heartrending, and uplifting, as the Dardenne brothers perfectly calibrate every magnificently observant sequence – including a third-act chase that’s as taut as anything committed to film this year – for maximum emotional devastation. Their narrative’s superficial simplicity belies a complex, underlying intertwining of guilt, shame, desperation, accountability, and maturation. And as the film’s wayward juvenile, in a final, tearful embrace, achieves manhood by accepting responsibility for his actions, L'Enfant achieves a sublime state of transcendent catharsis.
(2005 New York Film Festival)