‘L’Enfant’ translates to ‘The Child.’ I can’t imagine a more appropriate title. Bruno (Jérémie Renier), our protagonist, is a petty thug living in Paris with his girlfriend, Sonia (Déborah François). In the very first scene we learn that Bruno subletted Sonia’s apartment, possibly to strangers, to make a few extra bucks. What makes this truly unforgivable is that Sonia’s cradling her newborn child and Bruno is nowhere to be found.
Bruno is a thug by profession, operating out of a dilapidated shack next to the Seine. This is where Sonia finds him and he meets his son for the first time. The two are understandably excited; they frolic on the ground like children who’ve just discovered that they enjoy doing so. Every encounter between them seems to end up this way, that is until Bruno sells the child on the black market and a similar encounter involves a knife and lots of shouting. Sonia does what any sensible woman would do; she kicks him out.
The narrative abandons the baby and focuses on another child, Bruno. His “associates” are all children, none of whom are equipped to live in the real world. They don’t fully understand that their actions have real consequences, often negative in their line of “work.” At one point Bruno visits his mother to ask a favor, and she robotically does as he asks. His childhood must have been cake. When Bruno is forced to face the consequences of his actions head on it seems that everything in his life is at stake. He has literally nothing to lose, which makes his decision surprising and heroic, leading to an emotionally charged and completely earned dénouement.
In a way, ‘L’Enfant’ is a coming of age story with a protagonist that has already done so physically. At this point in his life, he must play catch up.
What the filmmaker brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (‘Le Fils’) have done so well is create chemistry between Sonia and Bruno. Sonia gives into Bruno’s childish quirks and seems to find them endearing. But she must draw the line somewhere, as do we. Wherever your line is, Bruno will probably cross it.