Monday, May 29, 2006

Le Baby-Daddy

Just got back from seeing "L'Enfant," the story of mildly retarded Belgian low-lives that will forever disabuse you of any notions that slim, pleasant-looking, baguette-eating French-speaking Europeans necessarily have even the slightest bit of class, dignity, culture, humanity, or--most importantly--gift for gab. These people just act, never think, steal not for drug money or glamor but just because, toss infants around like objects, and express both affection and disgust with a violent shove. It will also disabuse you of concerns over Europe's declining birth rates--these characters make Britney Spears's parenting seem impeccable.

As my friends and I discussed after the movie, what's perhaps most striking about this movie from an American perspective is how the very classic baby-mama/baby daddy combo, the life of petty crime, the poorly-thought-out, nihilistic behavior, all of this was involving two of the whiter white people Western Europe has to offer. If the protagonists were people of color, the audience would have either been offended or thought, "and so?" The behavior is meant to be more surprising coming from people so "Aryan." But it also goes beyond race--there are plenty of white low-lives in America, but how many take occasional breaks to eat elegant baguette sandwiches? Or wear such elegantly disheveled, East Village-ready clothes?

Because of their white Western Europeanness, the audience is led to wonder whether perhaps there's more to these characters than it appears. But, there isn't. In the NYT review of the film, "'L'Enfant' ('The Child') Shows a Thief Who Eventually Finds Redemption," Manohla Dargis is quite far off. Bruno, the thief in question, never thinks beyond his most immediate needs, and his occasional apologies or claims that he has changed are inevitably followed by demands for money or to borrow a cellphone, followed by further antisocial activity. That the movie ends on one of his "oops" moments makes him seem pathetic, but in no way implies he intends to mend his ways. Bruno would be incapable of this--his only friend is a young child, and his ability to plan more than several seconds ahead is simply not there. The movie is depressing in its bleakness, but I cannot imagine anyone tearing up during it, as there is no moral dilemma whatsoever; you are observing pathetic low-lives for whom "redemption" is unfathomable.

1 comment:

Petey said...

"the story of mildly retarted Belgian low-lives that will forever disabuse you of any notions that slim, pleasant-looking, baguette-eating French-speaking Europeans necessarily have even the slightest bit of class, dignity, culture, humanity"

As a good Francophile, you should be informed it's a popular French prejudice to think Belgians are a bit stupid.

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"If the protagonists were people of color, the audience would have either been offended or thought, "and so?" The behavior is meant to be more surprising coming from people so "Aryan." ... Because of their white Western Europeanness, the audience is led to wonder whether perhaps there's more to these characters than it appears."

This leaves me baffled other than to think the 'audience' you're referring to is more idiosyncratic than generic.

There is a pretty vibrant 'Europeanz in the Hood' cinema in existence, but I don't think the audience is expected to empathize with these movies' protagonists differently based on their level of pigmentation compared to protagonists in 'Boyz in the Hood' cinema.

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Separate from all that, I though L'Enfant was a pretty damn vivid film.