The fraternal writing-directing team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne continue their superb series of films focusing on the struggles of the urban poor in their native Belgium, told in gritty semi-documentary style and always raising wrenching ethical issues. “Lorna’s Silence” isn’t the equal of such earlier efforts as “Rosetta” and “L’Enfant,” but it’s still a powerful work.
The Lorna of the title, played by Arta Dobroshi, is a young Albanian woman caught up in an immigration scheme. She’s in a sham marriage to Claudy (Jeremie Renier), a pathetically needy junkie, that will earn her citizenship. But her sleazy boss, taxi driver Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), has further plans. His gang will arrange for Claudy to die of an overdose, leaving Lorna to remarry a wealthy Russian for big bucks.
It’s that part of the plot that troubles Lorna. She tries to secure a quick divorce from Claudy, whom she treats dismissively but doesn’t want dead, going so far as to injure herself to suggest he’s been abusing her. Meanwhile she maintains a relationship with her lover Sokol (Alban Ukaj).
This precis lays out the plot in far more direct a fashion than the film does, however. The Dardennes present what’s happening in an allusive, fragmentary style, compelling the viewer to make the connections among the characters. It’s an approach that actually deepens them, since we must constantly read motives and subtleties into the actions we’re watching in order to link them together into a coherent whole. The effort is well worth it.
And the film doesn’t go where you might expect, anyway. A shift so abrupt that it might lead you to suspect a reel’s been dropped takes the story in another direction and Lorna to a moral crossroads. What happens grows organically from what’s preceded it, but it’s still surprising, and the particulars won’t be revealed here. Suffice it to say that the film becomes another of the brothers’ parables of the possibility of redemption.
No one else working today captures the circumstances of the marginalized members of society as realistically as the Dardennes, and that sense of authenticity is certainly present here, although Alain Marcoen’s cinematography trades the busy, handheld camerawork of their previous work for almost austerely simple images. The spareness continues into the soundtrack, which eschews all but source music until the final moments, when the strains of a late Beethoven sonata are inserted to complete the transcendent mood.
The genuineness extends into the performances. Dobroshi, who’s on screen almost continuously, is impressively restrained, forging a portrait of a largely impassive woman who simply does what she needs to do from moment to moment, the result of a life of hardship and dead ends. She’s well matched by Dardenne repertory player Renier, whose Claudy is a sad figure of dissipation. The rest of the cast is equally good, but in a subdued, matter-of-fact way.
The major visual motif of “Lorna’s Silence” has to do with its characters’ constantly shuffling, counting out and exchanging Euro notes. It’s the perfect metaphor for a society that treats human beings as commercial entities, bought and sold at will. And the Dardennes have once again captured the harsh realty of the modern underclass while also injecting a note of moral hopefulness into what might have been a bleak and heartless tale.