Just who is The Child? The obvious answer would be the newborn bairn that becomes the merchandise in a sleazy baby trafficking episode. But with Belgian auteurs the Dardenne brothers behind the camera, there are deeper levels to explore in another stark but gripping construction of social realism. A more likely candidate for the title emerges in the form of the baby's father, petty crook Bruno (Jérémie Renier), who struggles to deal with the consequences of selling his first born.
Like a modern-day Fagin, he fences stolen goods brought to him by a couple of light-fingered schoolboys and everything that falls into his possession is converted into hard cash. Girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François) is understandably horrified to discover this includes their infant son. But Bruno lives for the moment and doesn't even attempt to cover his tracks, thinking Sonia will be glad of the extra cash. "We can have another," is his infantile excuse. He then races through a grim landscape of dismal flyovers and rusting lock-ups trying to right his wrong but, incapable of taking responsibility for his actions, matters only become worse.
Bruno's actions speak louder than his words and while he brazenly talks his way out of almost any situation, it's his mannerisms (such as playing in the mud to kill time) that reveal his true nature. It's hard to empathise with such a blatantly self-centred individual but Renier's rakish charm is more than enough to carry the film. And when events finally push him towards redemption, it's as if an irresponsible but much-loved younger brother has finally managed to get back on the rails.
In French with English subtitles.