There are so many deliciously horrible people doing so many nerve-wracking things in "Child's Pose" that viewers might need a little meditation and stretching by the time it's all over. Although the title refers to the restful pose in yoga, there's little that's calming in the canny Calin Peter Netzer's Romanian import, which assumes an unusual posture regarding societal corruption: Yes, everyone's in it for themselves, but it's the hand that rocks the cradle that makes the moral temperature of a nation.
The cradle rocker in "Child's Pose" is Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu), a privileged schemer whose birthday party is attended by politicians and opera stars -- but not her son, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), who evidently despises her despite, and because of, her tyrannical devotion. (Her husband calls her Controlia, but she doesn't seem to notice.) Barbu, who comports himself like a sullen baby, isn't just a liability to himself: At the conclusion of the birthday party, Cornelia learns that he's killed a 14-year-old boy while racing his car. Her first concern, of course, is how to get him off.
There's joy to be had in watching people act really, really badly, and Cornelia does, but never without the complicity of a system which, as Netzer is always making quietly clear, is rotten to its bones. The police, initially appalled at Cornelia's attempts to manipulate the investigation, are eventually made to toe the line. There's little consideration of the victim, only the "poor boy" whose life may be ruined by his mother-indulged narcissism. Fans of old Hollywood will find echoes of the 1949 Spencer Tracy chestnut "Edward, My Son," in which a father stops at nothing to help his son and produces a disaster. In that film you never saw the boy, only the father and his deformed devotion. Netzer might have considered the same tack, but couldn't: When the moral chips fall, you need a character you can trust, even if it's Barbu. Cornelia? You never really know.
PLOT When her son kills a young boy with his car, a puppet master mother starts pulling strings. Unrated
CAST Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Ilinca Goia
BOTTOM LINE Perversely engrossing thanks to Gheorghiu's performance as the queen of denial. (In Romanian with English subtitles.)