Monday, September 28, 2009

Movie Review: Lorna's Silence

Lorna’s Silence *** ½
Directed by:
Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne.
Written By: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne.
Starring: Arta Dobroshi (Lorna), Jérémie Renier (Claudy Moreau), Fabrizio Rongione (Fabio), Alban Ukaj (Sokol), Morgan Marinne (Spirou), Olivier Gourmet (L'inspecteur), Anton Yakovlev (Andrei), Grigori Manukov (Kostia), Mireille Bailly (Monique Sobel).

Lorna’s Silence takes place where capitalism and crime meet. The criminals in the movie have seen a market that is being underserved, and have started to serve that market. That the activity is illegal does not really matter to them. They are all business. Most movie criminals are colorful or brutal characters. Think of the criminals in a Tarantino movie for instance. They are quick witted and funny, brutal and unforgiving. The criminals in Lorna’s Silence are the exact opposite. They are all business all the time. They don’t really care about anything except making money. As long as you don’t get in the way, you’ll be fine.

Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is an Albanian immigrant living in Belgium. There is no way that she can get Belgian citizenship, except to marry to a Belgian citizen. That is where Claudy (Jeremie Renier) comes in. He is a junkie who needs money. Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione) has hooked these two up. When the film opens, Lorna and Claudy are already married, and getting ready to get a divorce. Claudy received 5,000 Euro when they got married, and will get another 5,000 when the divorce is final. Lorna will then have to marry a rich Russian, who wants Belgian citizenship himself. When he gets it, Lorna will finally be free to marry her true love Sokol (Alban Ukaj), so that he can get citizenship, and the two of them can open their snack bar, which they have dreamed about for years.

The plan seems perfect, except for one hitch. Fabio has no intention of paying Claudy another 5,000 Euro upon divorce. Now that Lorna has got her citizenship, he plans on giving Claudy a lethal drug overdose. The cops don’t look into widows the same way they look into divorces involving a new immigrant into the country. Lorna knows about the plan, and seems ok with it. After all, Claudy is only a junkie right? No one is going to miss him.

Lorna and Claudy live in the same apartment, but she treats him like a nuisance. He is always after her to play cards or just hang out, but she’s too tired from working all day. Although it’s his apartment, she is the boss. Things all change however, when Claudy decides it is time to get clean, and asks for Lorna’s help. She is reluctant at first, but once he checks himself into the hospital, she starts to feel responsible. It is no longer right to kill Claudy if he’s getting his life together. When he gets out, and realizes that Lorna is getting a divorce and leaving, he starts to slide back into his previous life. To keep him from using, she seduces him. Everything seems to be going okay, but then Claudy ends up dead from a drug overdose anyway. Fabio did not want to make the Russian wait the little bit longer it would take for the divorce to be final. It is here where starts to suffer a break from reality.

The film was written and directed by the Dardenne brothers, who have become two of the most acclaimed and influential filmmakers in the world after only five films. Two of their films (Rosetta and L’Enfant) won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, another The Son, won the best actor prize at Cannes for Olivier Gourmet and Lorna’s Silence won the screenplay prize there just last year. Their influence can be seen in everything from the new Romanian films (like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) as well as the American Independent movement in films like Ballast. While their Bresson inspired neo-realism is nothing all that new, they have brought it back in a very real way.

Lorna’s Silence both fits in with the rest of the films on their resume, as well as marking enough of a departure to not qualify it as the same old thing all over again. In addition to neo-realism, this film also harkens back to another post-World War II genre - film noir. While crime is nothing new to the Dardennes, the world occupied by criminals is. The criminal conspiracy at play here is similar to the worlds occupied by film noir - right down the “hero” who falls in love with the “victim” - in this case Lorna with Claudy. But what makes it slightly different here is that Lorna does not actually fall in love with Claudy - she feels sorry for him, feels responsible for his safety, and feels guilty for entering into an agreement which is going to end with Claudy’s death.

The characters in Dardenne movies always struggle with guilt. From Rosetta, who just wants to get a job, and goes too far, to the father in The Son who feels guilty about his son’s death, to L’Enfant where the father feels guilty after selling his baby child. Lorna is no different, accept that this time, she feels guilty before she has really committed the crime. She feels guilty about Claudy’s death, even before it happens, and then after he does die, her guilt pushes her over the edge into delusional territory. She becomes convinced that she is pregnant with Claudy’s baby, and even when it is proven that she isn’t, she keeps holding onto the idea. If she is pregnant with Claudy’s baby, then at least she is able to keep a piece of him alive.

If Lorna’s Silence is not quite the triumph that the other Dardenne films are, it is because I’m not quite sure I believed in all of the changes that Lorna goes through. There is no indication that Lorna even considered having sex with Claudy until the scene where she seduces him, and her break from reality seems a little too quick and convenient to the plot.
Yet the emotional impact of the movie remains even though there are some problems with the movie. As played by Arta Dobroshi, in an amazing tactile performance, she becomes one the Dardennes most memorable creations. Like many films this decade, she is a woman trying to make a better life for herself, and is prevented from doing so because of where she was born. As long as there is such a disparity between the opportunities available to people in one country compared to another, there will always be people like Lorna. She becomes a criminal out of necessity, and everything else that follows flows from the fact that she was born in Albania, where she had no opportunity for a better life. It is people like Lorna that they don’t talk about when they talk about the new, united Europe.

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