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    Children of Love

    Brussels pouts

    Three Belgian children endure their twice-monthly visitation ordeal in "Children of Love," a disconcerting faux-documentary that nonetheless offers some subtle truths about growing up with divorced parents.


    "Children of Love" attempts a very strange and disconcerting pirhouette in the middle of its story about children of divorce. Halfway through, it switches from a cinema-verite look at the family dynamics involved in parent-child weekend visits to a series of interviews with the family members involved. What kind of movie is this supposed to be, the audience might begin to wonder.

    Original title: Les Enfants de l'Amour.
    Written and directed by: Geoffrey Enthoven.
    Produced by: C. Buchet-Charlet, Mariano Vanhoof.
    Cast: Nathalie Stas, Winnie Vigilante, Michael Philpot, Olivier Ythier, Fauve De Loof, Jean-Louis Leclercq.
    Cinematography: Gerd Schelfhout.

    Related links: Official site
    More disconcerting still, these aren't actually family members — they're actors playing a family in a faux docudrama. Why the style of the faux film changes from cinema verite to documentary when it really is neither, is hard to fathom. But despite this strange jolt, the film offers much insight into the nature of this common broken-family experience.

    The setup involves one mother, two fathers and three children. Nathalie is the mother of three, and this is their court-mandated visitation weekend. Her first husband, Olivier, is a creep, but son Michael idolizes him and craves his approval. Daughter Winnie despises him and glumly suffers the visitation. She would rather spend a weekend with her little sister's dad, Renaud, regardless of what the court orders say.

    Children of Love  
    Renaud warmly picks up his daughter, Aurelie, and (even though he'd rather be spending the weekend with his sexy young girlfriend) showers her with affection all weekend. Aurelie is far more joyful than her depressed sister Winnie or her insecure macho brother Michael.

    In spite of its contrived nature, "Children of Love" makes many interesting points — which would be virtually identical if the film were set in a United States family.

    Most significantly, everything that happens is, theoretically, done in the name of the children, but really for the satisfaction of the adults. Winnie has an early scene with her therapist, whom she seems to consider useless but is required to see, where she insists that she wants to go with the warm, fatherly Renaud rather than her own mean-spirited father.

    "My mother doesn't want to see him either. She doesn't even allow him in the house," the girl says. "Why does she have the right to decide and I don't?"

    As in real life, children don't get to decide anything. Far from serving their interests, these visitations often disrupt their lives more than they connect them to their fathers. The lousy father, Olivier, tries to cram a lifetime of harsh and ineffectual parenting into his few days with the kids, and he lets his own fights with their mother infect their relationship. The better father, Renaud, tries to keep daughter separate from his girlfriend and his new life, which proves frustrating for both. The children themselves know they're getting a fraction of a real dad in the deal, and they try to make their own decisions with only a little bit of success. This is not just the parents' fault — it's the way the ill-considered visitation system is set up and the way the law and culture of divorce fail to take seriously children's own instinct for what they need in their lives.

      Children of Love
    Many more subtle observations could be made about scenes in the film's little drama, and one is about the quality of community that surround these relationships. When we first see the children together, Michael is jumping up and down chanting, "We're going to Quick! We're going to Quick!" He's referring to Quick Burger, a leading American-style fast-food chain in Belgium and France. When they get there, the whole experience is a sanitized, individually wrapped disaster full of arguing and devoid of community. The contrast comes when we look in on little Aurelie, whose father has taken her to a local cafe where the proprietress welcomes them both by name and sits down at their table to chat. It's no surprise that Winnie feels awkward and isolated at Quick (which, to be fair, is not a bad place for a burger if you're in a hurry) while Aurelie positively beams to be eating in a neighborhood joint with her dad, surrounded by friendly faces. If it takes a village to raise a child, that village is disappearing in one instance and still strong in the other.

    "Children of Love" is disconcertingly put together, but it has a lot to tell us. Within its close focus on the visitation process are a lot of truths about both the children and the adults in this uncomfortable but common situation.

    DECEMBER 24, 2003

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