L'ENFANT (THE CHILD) — *** — Jeremie Renier, Deborah Francois, Jeremie Segard; in French, with English subtitles; rated R (violence, profanity, brief sex).

The title of "L'Enfant (The Child)" refers as much to the irresponsible main character, Bruno (Jeremie Renier), as it does to the child he has fathered.

A rather vivid portrait of young, uneducated and irresponsible parents, "L'Enfant" is told simply and effectively, with no frills whatsoever. There isn't even soundtrack music.

As a result, the drama is so bleak that it isn't easy to watch. But it is effective — so much so that it could probably be used as a Planned Parenthood lecture film.

Renier ("Brotherhood of the Wolf") plays Bruno as a thief and hustler who's barely scraping by. Which makes it even more unfortunate that his rather naive girlfriend Sonia (Deborah Francois) has just given birth to their child, a boy she's named Jimmy.

Sonia has stars in her eyes and misconceptions about settling down and starting a family with Bruno. He, on the other hand, sees an opportunity to make some money. So when Sonia leaves the baby in Bruno's care, he opts to sell the infant to black marketers.

When she hears this news, Sonia freaks out and informs the police. That takes Bruno by surprise, and suddenly he has to decide where his loyalties and responsibilities lie.

Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne clearly weren't interested in making their lead character very sympathetic. However, the journey and character evolution of Bruno is subtle and believable, thanks to Renier's performance.

Francois' whiny Sonia isn't really sympathetic either, though at least you can attribute some of her naivete to her youthful nature.

"L'Enfant (The Child)" is rated R for a couple of scenes of strong violence (including a beating), scattered use of strong sexual profanity and other sexually suggestive language, and some brief sexual contact. Running time: 91 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com