Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Starring Arta Dobroshi, Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Alban Ukaj. (2008, R, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 11, 2009
The latest film from the Belgian Dardenne brothers keeps with their award-winning and highly recognizable realist style of storytelling. Their films are modern morality tales, usually set in urban, post-industrial milieus, and populated by immigrants or characters that are otherwise living on the economic fringes of society. The protagonists’ moral dilemmas are not arrived at through idle contemplation or abstract reasoning, but rather as a direct result of financial straits and survival instincts. Lorna (Dobroshi) is an Albanian national working at a dry-cleaning plant in a dingy-seeming Belgian city. At first, we watch details of her life unfold while the plot gradually comes into focus. She is waiting to gain her citizenship card and then open up a snack shop with her boyfriend Sokol (Ukaj), an itinerant worker who visits her occasionally as work allows. A few obstacles lie in her path, however. She is presently married to Claudy (Renier), a Belgian junkie who was preselected for his easy disposability once she gains citizenship. Her partner in crime/business manager Fabio (Rongione) knows that a junkie’s accidental death by overdose won’t look suspicious, which will leave Lorna free to marry a wealthy Russian who also wants to acquire citizenship papers. So the chain continues, but then the unexpected happens: Claudy wants to kick his habit and enlists Lorna’s help in detoxing. Will her obligations to the mobsters outweigh her human obligation to help a person in need? Even though their marriage is a sham and the film’s opening scenes convey the lack of emotion in their arrangement, should the prior arrangement take precedence over an unexpected turn of events? It helps the film that newcomer Dobroshi casts her highly indelible presence over the film. Her face is inscrutable yet riveting, always keeping her own counsel and never telegraphing her actions in advance of their occurrence. It’s only toward the end of the film, when the Dardennes open up the story to a more allegorical and Christian reading, that Lorna’s Silence takes a turn toward unsure footing. This shift seems more pronounced than in their other films (among them Rosetta, The Child, The Son, and The Promise), yet it did not hinder the film from winning the award for best screenplay at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Still, Lorna’s Silence echoes long after the movie ends.