The Belgian Dardenne Brothers—Jean-Pierre and Luc—make films that critics tend to fawn over and no one else much sees. Having once been subjected to their work with The Son (2002), my spirits sank when I saw they were the parties responsible for Lorna’s Silence. It isn’t that I’d call The Son a bad film, but it’s simply not a kind of film I care for. It’s slow, it’s done in a fake documentary style, it eschews such sissy features as a musical score, it’s not much interested in drama, and it’s willfully rather ugly to look at. When I saw one critic enthusing that their new film, Lorna’s Silence, was so realistic that you might mistake it for surveillance footage, my spirits were somewhere beneath Captain Nemo’s ship.
So there I was prepared to be pretty miserable for 105 very long minutes. Imagine my surprise when Lorna’s Silence turned out to be a complex, compelling existential thriller that looked like a movie and had a strong central performance holding it in place. There’s still a tendency to go for a documentary feel (undercut by some beautiful cinematography), and there’s still no musical score, but neither feel like pretentious affectations this round. Here these things seem natural to the story.
A good deal of what makes Lorna’s Silence work lies in the acting and screen presence of Albanian actress Arta Dobroshi. I’d be surprised if you’ve ever heard of or seen Dobroshi. I’ll be equally surprised if this is the last you hear of her. In so many ways, it’s her performance that keeps the film interesting. It’s her ability to convey complex and often contradictory emotions without saying very much that imbues it with a resonance it would otherwise lack.
The story concerns Lorna (Dobroshi), a young Albanian woman who is involved in a seedy and complicated scheme to get money. She’s bought her way into a marriage with a Belgian junkie, Claudy Moreau (Jérémie Renier, In Bruges), in order to obtain Belgian citizenship. This will allow her to get rid of Claudy—by divorce, she hopes—in order to marry a Russian in need of citizenship. This is all for money, of course—a scheme worked out by Italian taxi driver and small-time crook Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione). Lorna’s plan is to get enough so that she and her boyfriend, another Albanian immigrant Sokol (Alban Ukaj), can get enough money to open a snack bar.
There are complications—not the least of which is that Claudy doesn’t really want a divorce and is trying to get off heroin. The latter poses a huge problem for Fabio, who was planning to have the young man appear to die of an overdose. Moreover, Lorna is dead set against having Claudy killed and has conflicting emotions about her relationship to him. There’s more—including an accidental pregnancy—but the convolutions of the plot are part of the film’s appeal and ought to be largely discovered by the viewer.
Not a particularly pleasant movie, Lorna’s Silence is instead a quietly powerful one on the topic of not just what levels human beings can sink to, but what heights they might attain, and just what can happen if you’re pushed beyond your capacity for duplicity. It’s not a film I’d care to see again any time soon, but it is a film I’m glad I saw—and one that I recommend to readers in search of something heavier than most fare that’s out there right now. Rated R for brief sexuality/nudity and language.