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Complicated people in complicated situations are the simple ingredients for good drama, and they are all that's required to make a film like Lorna's Silence, the latest effort from sibling writers/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. It's very close to that old Godard scenario where all one needs is a girl and a gun, and if we take that gun as metaphor rather than the actual physical object, then Lorna's Silence is right there.
Lorna is an Albanian woman living in Belgium as part of a scheme to establish foreign citizenship through marriage. Played with a chilly nervousness by relative newcomer Arta Dobroshi, Lorna is stuck in a marriage of convenience to a junkie named Claudy (Jérémie Renier, In Bruges and the Dardennes' L'enfant). This is partially by design, as Lorna's handlers, led by the quietly calculating Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione, also from L'enfant), know that it's easier to ditch a junkie husband once Lorna has gotten her Belgian I.D. card than a more together patsy. In fact, the time has come for Claudy to have an "accidental" overdose so that Lorna can marry a Russian willing to pay for access into the country. Too bad that Claudy has chosen this time to get clean. Lorna has also started getting cold feet about the murder, and she starts looking for ways to get a quick divorce, including filing a fake police report to accuse Claudy of abuse. This is a bit much for her comrades, however; they don't want Lorna talking to the cops while they are all in the middle of a criminal enterprise.
The fact that this movie is called Lorna's Silence is subtly ironic, as silence seems to be the one thing Lorna is incapable of. Stuck in a situation that is more than she planned for, she never seems to know when it would be best to shut up. Throughout the film, Lorna ignores Fabio and her actual boyfriend, Sokol (Alban Ukaj), and tries to do things her own way. This jeopardizes the entire operation, which is supposed to end with her and Sokol opening their own café after the Russian is established as a Belgian. It would be so easy for Lorna just to go along and see this thing through, and watching her constantly fight against the tide, I was unsure whether I should sympathize with Lorna or be as frustrated as everyone else. A bad choice seemingly put her in this position, and she isn't making any better choices trying to get out of it.
I'm almost ashamed to admit, but this is my first exposure to the Dardenne brothers. Though I am familiar with the titles of some of their past efforts, I have somehow gotten this far without seeing any of them. Based on Lorna's Silence, this is a situation I have to rectify tout suite. Lorna's Silence is part of that current school of patiently paced neorealist movies that also includes Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Andrea Arnold's Red Road--all of which fit that same set-up of complicated people finding themselves in complicated situations. The aesthetic is simple, almost stylized in the reverse, the fostered illusion of no style being a style itself. These films aren't as Spartan as the Dogme movement, nor as contrived as the U.S. mumblecore collective; rather, they really do have more in common with the old Italian masters. You can still shoot human life at the ground-level and have it look and feel like a movie.
Lorna's Silence is photographed with a cold, stark eye by cinematographer Alain Marcoen and edited with a patient and steady hand by Marie-Hélène Dozo, both regular Dardenne collaborators. The movie unfolds as a series long, observant scenes, often uninterrupted by extraneous pick-ups and without any musical score outside of the occasional live source music. Though film language clearly comes into play, it's the storytelling that counts, not the trappings of popular cinema.
Well, in the shooting style, at least. Arguably, the Dardennes' scripting does follow some convention. The tidy way in which they stack the odds against Lorna would not be out of place in an average thriller, and a couple of swerves the story takes aren't that hard to see coming as a result. On the other hand, the consequences of said turns and the reality behind them are unexpected, as if the Dardennes have purposely dangled a few recognizable plot baubles in front of us only to yank them away after we've taken a good look. This sets up an ending that subverts the notion of more proper resolutions. There isn't a neat wrap-up like in most suspense pictures. Instead, the Dardennes take us back to the personal, to the source from whence the drama first sprang, pointing out that whether we realized it or not, Lorna's Silence is not a crime picture about a plan gone awry, but about its heroine's search for security and a place where she can belong and be loved safely.
Meaning that maybe it's not as complicated as all that after all.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.