BERLIN Actress Luminita Gheorghiu plays a domineering mother trying to save her son from jail in "Child's Pose", a stark family drama from Romania competing in this year's Berlin film festival.
The movie, directed by Calin Peter Netzer, shines an unforgiving light on the casual corruption and flashy materialism of post-communist Romania's upper middle class which expects to be able to buy itself out of any difficulty.
Netzer belongs to a group of young Romanian directors who have emerged since the death in 1989 of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu who had controlled the arts with an iron hand.
With its black humor, social satire and a remorseless focus on its protagonists' neuroses, the film stands firmly in the tradition of Romanian new wave cinema that has wowed Western audiences over the past decade.
But Gheorghiu said the film's theme is universal, not local.
"I don't think this is a problem specific to Romania. There are mothers like this everywhere ... who are victims of their unconditional love for their child," she told a news conference after the film's world premiere on Monday.
Gheorghiu's character Cornelia hopes to win back the love of her son Barbu by using her social connections and splashing cash around liberally after he accidentally knocks down and kills a boy while speeding along a road outside Bucharest.
Barbu, 30, traumatized by the accident, faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted but he is also desperate to escape a mother who has always tried to run his life and refuses to let him grow up.
Cornelia, 60, always immaculately turned out in designer outfits and jewellery, lives in a plush villa in Bucharest where the bookshelves are lined with unread works by, among others, Romanian-born Nobel literature laureate Herta Mueller.
BUYING OFF PEOPLE
Cornelia's imperious attitude to the police, her arrogant disdain for Barbu's girlfriend, and her awkward attempt to buy off the poor family of the dead boy provide an unflattering insight into the attitudes of Romania's nouveau riche.
"People from this social class are perhaps more likely to suffer from this kind of almost pathological relationship between a mother and her children than the lower social strata," said Netzer, who spent part of his youth in Germany.
But Cornelia's blindness to her own selfishness is also both comic and tragic. In the emotional culmination of the film, during a visit to the humble village home of the dead boy's parents to pay her condolences, she ends up speaking obsessively about her own son as though he were the one who had died.
Netzer said the film's title "Child's Pose" comes from a yoga position, a detail that was edited out of the film, and refers to Cornelia's inability to let her son break free.
"Child's Pose" is one of 19 films in this year's competition at the 11-day Berlinale, the first major European film festival of the year.
Netzer is best known for "Medal of Honour", an ironic movie about a pensioner who erroneously receives an award for his "heroic" actions in World War Two.
(Reporting by Gareth Jones, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)