Saturday, January 9, 2010


These days people are pretty desperate to live in Belgium. I suppose it depends on where you start life. Lorna, for instance, is an Albanian -- from the country, not the city in New York where I live. Some of us Albanians might want to move to Belgium, too, but Lorna's the one with the system. To be more accurate, she's a cog in the system. Here's how it works. The local mafia makes a deal with a native Belgian, paying him to marry Lorna. They stay married long enough to not look suspicious, then they break up. By then, Lorna has a Belgian passport. Now she can marry some guy from the east and get him Belgian citizenship. Pretty efficient.

The complication, in this particular case, is what to do with the first husband, the Belgian. Lorna has married Claudy Moreau, known to most of her associates as "the junky." And that about sums it up -- except that he's trying to kick the habit. A deep, aching emotional neediness emerges as he embarks upon the ordeal. While Lorna prefers to deal with her husband on a purely transactional basis, he desperately needs her to be near him, to talk to or play cards with. She's the one constant in his life, someone he can set goals around to structure his time and keep his mind off the junk. But she'd rather keep her distance. It's a marriage in name only, of course; Claudy sleeps in the living room on a mattress Lorna keeps stuck between her mattresses during the day. She resents his neediness, especially when it means calling her home from her laundry job on some feeble pretext or another. But despite all the annoyances and her desire to hook up eventually with her Albanian boyfriend Sokol, she can't help pitying Claudy, especially when she realizes that the people who placed her with him specifically matched her with a junky because it'd be easy to make her a widow by arranging an overdose. His resolution to clean up complicates their plans, especially since Lorna's next husband, "the Russian," is on his way to Belgium. They want to be rid of Claudy as soon as possible, but Lorna would rather he didn't die.

So she tries to arrange a divorce to let Claudy can get away clean, even though her handlers claim that a quickie divorce would look suspicious. Her idea is to claim abuse and to get Claudy to hit her. But as she's discovered compassion, he's discovered honor. He doesn't want to go on public record as a violent case. Lorna thinks he owes it to her to clobber her because she stood by him during his withdrawal, but the best he can manage is a tepid slap. She has to bruise herself and bash her head against a wall to make it more convincing. The irony of the situation is that she's trying to save his life, but he feels that she's abandoning him, and that drives him to the brink of falling off the wagon. Lorna realizes suddenly that she can't let that happen. Her solution is to offer herself, naked, to him, abruptly redeeming their parody of a marriage.

This is probably the happiest moment for our main charcters, but things change fast.

This takes us to the halfway point of Le Silence de Lorna, but it becomes hard to describe it further without diluting the shock value of subsequent story twists. But I think I've described enough to get fans of crime cinema interested. This is definitely a crime movie, but of a subset that might be described as lowlife pathos, dealing with the desperate struggles and sorrows of the little people at the bottom of the food chain. It's a mode the Dardenne brothers have worked in before, particularly in the only other film of theirs that I've seen, The Child. They practice a kind of ragamuffin romanticism in naturalistic style and have won awards doing so. Their films (co-written and co-directed) look lived-in rather than art-directed, which is entirely right for their subject matter. In tone they're the opposite of hard-boiled. I call theirs crime films but they're not gangster movies and have nothing to do with fantasies of power or violence. The Dardennes do crime movies, I suppose, because crime is what the people at the bottom are reduced to. But they're an exception to the generic rule because compassion rather than cynicism is their object.

In Lorna's Silence the Dardennes have teamed a genuine Albanian actress of limited experience, Arta Dobroshi, with one of their favorite actors, Jeremie Renier. While their sudden burst of sexual passion is really a little hard to believe, the two performers do have a chemistry that makes the characters' evolving relationship emotionally convincing. In the second half of the film the spotlight is really on Dobroshi, who must leave you guessing whether she's having a moral epiphany or has just gone mad. The movie itself lets you keep on guessing, and Dobroshi gives you good reason to guess either way. The film ends sort of in medias res in a way that leaves you guessing, perhaps for the wrong reasons, but as a whole it's an eye-opening window into a Euro underworld, the humanity of which can't be denied.

Here's the trailer, uploaded to YouTube by moviestride:


Alex DeLarge said...

Great review! This made my Top Ten list this year and is one of their best...though L'INFANT may still be my favorite.

Troy Olson said...

This will likely make my top ten for 2009 as well. The Dardennes definitely have a knack for using the realistic style to tell an emotionally harrowing story, full of tension.

I think you put it best with the line, "The Dardennes do crime movies, I suppose, because crime is what the people at the bottom are reduced to. But they're an exception to the generic rule because compassion rather than cynicism is their object."

I'd recommend ROSETTA of their earlier films to watch (of course it's the only other one of theirs I've seen...hehe).

Samuel Wilson said...

Alex, I lean toward The Child as well, and both of the Dardennes' latest films make me want to go back in their careers. So thanks for the tip on Rosetta, Troy. I think my local library has that as well as The Son so there should be good times ahead.