It's only while watching a Dardenne brothers film that it becomes clear how few filmmakers--even the really good ones--fully realize their characters and story. The heroine of Lorna's Silence continually surprises us with her emotions and decisions, and yet the motivations for her reactions are always clear. Likewise, the scenes used to outline the plot's progression aren't the obvious ones we've come to expect, but precisely because events unfold in unexpected ways, they have more emotional kick.
Since transitioning from documentaries to raw, naturalistic dramas in 1996, writer/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have created a legacy of deeply human stories about mostly lower-class characters in industrial Belgium, trying to survive, live life and redeem themselves. Their latest film features the steadiest of their free-moving handheld photography, but maintains the authentic, documentary aesthetic that has become their trademark.
Previously unknown actress Arta Dobroshi offers her heart and soul to celluloid as Lorna, an Albanian immigrant who has been living with a drug addict (Jérémie Renier) in order to gain citizenship. She paid the junkie, Claudy, for the marriage, and the plan is that once she's been married long enough to earn citizenship, she'll marry a Russian to help him get citizenship. While Claudy thinks he will receive more money when the time comes for a divorce, Lorna's handlers have always planned to kill him with an overdose--a divorce would take too long and might be suspicious to authorities. As the time nears closer, Lorna begins to have second thoughts as to whether she can be part of a plot to end this man's life, even if he is an annoying addict.
Dobroshi exudes urgent desperation as Lorna tries to help her fake husband clean-up and find a way to fast-track a divorce. But the film is almost shocking in the way it moves the story forward, revealing a structure far vaster than what the initial subject suggested. It soon turns into a devastating tale of guilt's affect on the mind and body, and how someone can make up for something that can't be undone.
The film is presented in a well-done anamorphic transfer that preserves its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While the limitations of DVD prevent the picture from conveying all the textures present in the film's on-location 35mm cinematography, the transfer maintains rich colors, sharp details and a good range in both dark and bright scenes. No compression artifacts are visible from a normal viewing distance, although small flaws will be visible when the screen fills your field of vision.
The disc contains the film's original French-language Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and optional English subtitles. Lorna's Silence employs a very naturalistic sound design, using source sounds to craft a rich sense of ambiance. The sounds are crisp and well-balanced, and don't draw attention to themselves.
It's true that Lorna's Silence speaks for itself, but that doesn't mean Sony should get a free pass for releasing such a powerful film with practically no extras. The disc includes only the film's original theatrical trailer as well as trailers for 11 other Sony Pictures Classics titles that are currently either on DVD or in theaters. (A few of those trailers play automatically when the disc starts.) This is definitely not a production to be proud of.
The quality of Lorna's Silence alone merits a recommendation. Just think what a great release this could have been if Sony Pictures Classics had thought to add anything with the DVD.
Jeremy Mathews has been subjecting films to his criticism since 2000. He has contributed to several publications, including Film Threat, Salt Lake City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, In Utah This Week and The Wasatch Journal. He also runs the blog The Same Dame and fronts the band NSPS.