Last year's Palme D' Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, L'Enfant ("The Child"), in French with English subtitles, gradually exerts an affecting pull of gritty social realism.
The title could be considered somewhat elusive, not ostensibly the newborn Jimmy viewed asleep in the arms of a parent. Because Belgian directing brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne situate a trafficking scenario for the baby with the father, 20-year-old dispossessed Bruno (Jeremie Renier), being a small-time crook thinking that real jobs are for suckers.
Bruno is a wheeler and dealer who has sublet the apartment his girlfriend, 18-year-old Sonia (Deborah Francois) has bought through Belgian government aid, living in an eastern steel town off her unemployment, to strangers. The crux of L'Enfant deals with the effect on Bruno of selling Jimmy.
He barely makes Sonia happy by recording the birth at the Town Hall of Seraing. Bruno is like out of a Charles Dickens tale of operating as a panhandler then on the black market. He fences stolen goods given to him by smoothly unctuous schoolboys turning what he gets into cold cash.
Sonia will be deeply distressed by what the capricious Bruno does to their infant son whom he's really only glanced at, even if his connection promises Jimmy an adoptive home. The slick talker isn't looking at the future and tells Sonia "we can have another" with the extra cash covering himself.
In a relatively short running time, the Dardennes maneuver from the couple's immaturity to ground an arc that works cogently from a bleak industrial setting. It becomes clear what Bruno and Sonia are going through together and individually, as Bruno tries to become responsible, though things become grim.
The way L'Enfant taps into the characters' vulnerabilities, stripped down to their true nature, as in a sequence in the mud, unveils much more than dialogue needs to. The stark exploration of a days-old child's dependence makes the desperation heartfelt as the little one touches the viewer. Where Bruno and Sonia arrive from their starting point proves that Renier and Francois really take to heart a painful, redemptive love story "that is also the story of a father."