Child Under a Leaf (1974)

“He might come and try to take our baby away; so I’d have to kill him.”

Synopsis:
A woman (Dyan Cannon) in a loveless marriage has a child with her lover (Donald Pilon), but lives in fear of her abusive husband (Joseph Campanella) finding out the baby isn’t his.

Genres:

Review:
Peary reached a new all-time low in his inexplicable recommendation of this awful romantic melodrama (by writer/director/editor George Bloomfield) in his book. It’s actually difficult to know where to begin in critiquing it — it’s that uniformly terrible. The innocuous-sounding storyline — how could one get something so straightforward so wrong? — is botched from start to finish, as the mood (along with Francis Lai’s schizophrenic soundtrack) shifts from thriller (is Cannon’s husband stalking her?) to vaguely-European, wannabe-languorous-soft-filter romance (complete with a meadow as the lovers’ favored meeting place). We’re given no exposition at all — the film cuts immediately from some creepy looking shots-through-a-window in the first few minutes, to Cannon off jauntily trysting with her lover, leading us to question (among other things), When and how did she turn to him? What was her marriage with her “hideous” husband originally like, and when and why did it go sour? We never find out. Instead, the primary function of the screenplay seems to be simply to show us how deeply enamored these two insipid individuals are with both each other and with the love child they’ve created.

To that end, there’s a seemingly endless scene in which Cannon and Pilon make gaga eyes at their baby, who lies prone on (I kid you not) piles of white fur. Later, Cannon exposes her milk-engorged breast to Pilon, as part of their foreplay — in fact, come to think of it, the entire film exists basically on the level of a porn flick, which may explain why Peary includes it in his book. Cannon does expose some bare flesh every now and then, after all, so maybe that was reason enough for him to be a fan.

[Is it obvious yet how irritated I am at being “forced” to sit through this one? I’m especially annoyed that no explanatory code or review was provided to give us a sense of WHY it’s included in GFTFF.]

At any rate, tension is clearly meant to build in the screenplay from both Pilon’s intermittent threats to kill Cannon’s husband (he buys a gun near the beginning) and Campanella’s sinister hints that he believes the baby in his household isn’t really his. But do these narrative threads lead anywhere logical? Not a chance. Instead, the inevitable tragedy that ultimately ensues makes little sense. Meanwhile, the egregious fetishization of an infant as an objet d’amour between the two illicit lovers may be my biggest overall complaint about the film (and that’s saying a lot); this baby clearly exists simply as a “clever” narrative device, physical “proof” of the narcissistic lovers’ illicit bond.

Note: The tagline listed on IMDb — “A Motion Picture for Lovers Who Have Won or Lost…And Lovers Who Have Yet to Win or Lose!” — begins to hint at the campy humor one MIGHT find if stretching hard enough.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
Not a single thing.

Must See?
No; head the opposite direction if you happen to see this one coming your way.

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