Review: From brothers grim comes ‘Lorna’s Silence’
November 18, 2009
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne could well be considered the Coen Brothers of Belgium. The Dardennes share writing and directing duties on their films; their work explores the underbelly of life – crime, dirty money, broken families, plans going terribly and dangerously awry.
Where the two sets of film-making brothers depart is in the sense of humor: The Coens demonstrate one; the Dardennes do not. The Dardennes could have made something along the lines of “No Country for Old Men,” or even more so, the bleak, gray world of “Fargo.” They could not have made “The Big Lebowski” or “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” which generate an easier and more robust kind of laughter.
The Dardennes remain the brothers grim in “Lorna’s Silence.” The film is set in a sun-less, feature-free Belgian city. Even if the surroundings had been somewhat more cheerful, it would not have mattered. The camera focuses tightly on the characters; we see no landmarks, few street scenes, nothing beyond what the characters see. And what they see isn’t spirit-raising: a cramped economy apartment; a drab urban hospital; a parking garage; a few bordered-up storefronts.
This downbeat cityscape is essentially a reflection of the people who inhabit it. It’s a good hour into the film before anyone cracks even the slightest smile. These people are not in the business of enjoying life, but as in the Dardennes’ last film – 2005’s “The Child,” which won the Golden Palm at Cannes, and revolved around a drifting young couple who sell their baby – just making it through to the next day.
The story of “Lorna’s Silence” is parceled out in bits and pieces, but the mood is more important than the plot, and we get a sense of the atmosphere immediately. Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is a harried 20-something living with a heroine-addicted man, Claudy (Jeremie Renier). We sense early on that their’s is more an arrangement than a relationship; it turns out that Lorna is paying Claudy to marry her, so that she can become a Belgian citizen.
That’s only the beginning of the scheme. Lorna intends to use her citizen card to marry a Russian, who in turn will pay her for the privilege of citizenship. This ties her in with a menacing gangster/cab driver, Fabio, who has an ugly plan for getting Claudy out of the picture. And just off to the side is Sokol, Lorna’s actual lover, with whom she hopes to open a snack bar. Sokol, though, might be as shady as the rest of the men Lorna is surrounded by.
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The bleakness would be relentless – and ultimately not worth much – if not for the glimmers of light that arise. Lorna’s circumstances take several turns, all of them unexpected, steeped in mystery, and oddly believable. Which makes “Lorna’s Silence” resonate much deeper than you might expect.