Making Waves: Netzer Taps a Mother Lode of Moral Ambiguity in “Child’s Pose”

Posted by Brian Brooks on 10.31.2013

Veteran Romanian actress Luminiţa Gheorghiu gives a dynamic performance as both determined matriarch and quietly tragic figure in Romanian director Calin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose. She plays Cornelia, an upper middle class woman with a background in architecture, a doctor husband, furs, nice cars and home, cultured friends, and an immature son whom she painfully adores.

Child's Pose, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and is Romania's entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration this year, has been a favorite of critics at festivals around the world and will make its New York Premiere as the Centerpiece of the upcoming Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema festival (November 29 - December 4).

Cornelia as domineering mother comes into full play after she gets word her son has been arrested for hitting a 14 year old boy with his car. Who is at fault isn't exactly clear, but arriving at the police station to fetch her son, she is ready to wield her connections and influence to exonerate her only offspring, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache). Cornelia immediately orchestrates a plan. She will pay a visit to the witness and convince him that his initial testimony may not be exactly correct. She will also bring some cash. At the police station, she questions every step of the investigation and charms the officers, who may have use for her connections after all.

On the home front, she questions her son's girlfriend, learning—in some uncomfortable detail—about their sex life and other secrets about her emotionally distant son. Though he's dependent on his parents' largesse and willingness to take control of a delicate situation that is leaving him more vulnerable than ever, Barbu's resentment boils over. He detests his mother's growing encroachment in his life even as he is dependent on her ability to skillfully face down his mounting trouble.

Director Calin Peter Netzer spoke with FilmLinc Daily about Child's Pose via Skype from Romania soon after Film Society announced that the film will have its New York debut in the upcoming series. Though he initially thought of Gheorghiu—who played the mother in Cristian Mungiu's 2007 Oscar-winner Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days—to play the role, he tells why he looked at dozens of actresses before casting her. And while the film gives a quiet indictment on the power dynamics of the rich and well connected, the film is centrally about a dysfunctional family trying desperately to make it all right.

Luminiţa Gheorghiu will attend the Centerpiece screening of Child's Pose on November 30.

FilmLinc Daily: You co-wrote this drama with Razvan Radulescu. Did you both have a collective intuition or experience that precipitated the development of the mother-son story?

Calin Peter Netzer: Initially we had another project in mind. It was also about a dysfunctional family, but about retired people from England going to the south of Spain, but while developing this we started talking about our families and the dysfunction in our families and also about our mothers. So we realized that we had a subject and a character. That was the starting point.

Before we started writing we made a synopsis and discussed the way the story would develop. We saw many examples of car crashes in the news, so that [worked its way] into the story.

FD: Amidst the mother-son drama, there's also an interesting class dynamic in this story. Cornelia and her son Barbu are part of a wealthy family and the accident brings them into contact with a working class family. And Cornelia is not reticent to use her influence...

CPN:  We're talking about Romanian upper middle class people and also the film is talking about a mother-son relationship. This is a neurotic family. If Barbu didn't come from a wealthy family, perhaps things would have turned out differently. Cornelia had influence over the police officers. From the first scene, it was clear they could do nothing more and they're trying to find some advantages for themselves.

The film touches on corruption, but in our minds when we wrote the script, we weren't thinking about corruption as a main part of the story—it was secondary really. The focus is on this pathological relationship between mother and son. Corruption is really something that happens in Romania naturally these days so it is really secondary.

FD: Cornelia obviously loves her son, but she's very overbearing. I think her heart is in the right place, though her execution is perhaps over the top.

CPN: Cornelia's intentions are good, but she's also made a lot of mistakes. He is the way that he is because of Cornelia. He was raised in a dysfunctional, unhealthy family. Cornelia didn't have a good relationship with her husband, so she moved her attention in an unhealthy way toward Barbu. She's very possessive of him. But the film does not judge or give answers. I wanted the film to pose questions about their relationship.

FD: Barbu is resentful of his mother's omnipresence in his life, but he's also quite dependent on it…

CPN: The story is also about the decadence on each side, really. After the accident, Barbu is in shock and Cornelia takes that opportunity to bring him back emotionally. There's a conflict between Barbu's conscious and unconscious because, in some ways, he's still a child. In his conscience, he wants to be a grownup. He wants to get away. Cornelia is trying to win him back nevertheless. This is her chance to "bring him back" so to speak.

FD: How did you cast the two leads?

CPN: With Barbu (played by Bogdan Dumitrache), it was easy. I cast him immediately. I've worked with him in other films and we're friends. Cornelia was more difficult. From the beginning we wrote the script with her in mind, but we tried to find a different actress for that role because Luminiţa Gheorghiu is a well known actress here in Romania, so I thought about finding a new face, so to speak. I saw 30 or 40 other actresses, but Liminita was by far the best choice.

The role was quite difficult for her, though. I think this is the first time she's played the main character in a film. It was also difficult for her because she's never played such a high society lady and she was a bit scared of doing that. There wasn't much talking about the character. I wanted to change her look in many ways and she at first agreed, but then got scared. At some point she didn't want to do the changes, but then agreed. It was a long journey…

FD: Tell me about the style of shooting. The camera had the feel of being a "fly on the wall" rather than simply viewing the plot unfold via the usual moviegoing experience…

CPN: That was the intention. We wanted it to make it very realistic and to place the cameraman right in the middle of the action. Shooting was a challenge because of the budget, which only allowed for 30 days, so we decided to shoot on digital with two cameras. There wasn't a lot of time to figure out different options, so after the rehearsal the D.P. just went right into the middle of the story.

FD: You of course won the Golden Bear in Berlin and this film is representing Romania as its choice for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration. Congratulations…

CPN: That was a great experience in Berlin. I've been traveling to a lot of festivals in many countries to promote the film. It's been great, but of course you get a bit tired too.

FD: Romania continues to be an exciting place for cinema. What's your country's secret? [Laughs] Are Romanians just naturally good storytellers?

CPN: It's a question I get a lot. I really don't know. I think maybe there's a talented generation working right now. I think we're trying to talk about honest things and I think that's the most important thing for filmmaking generally. At least that's one of the answers. There's also competition between us, which is still healthy. [Laughs] But I don't exactly know… The so called Romanian New Wave has been going for over 10 years...

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