Le Silence de Lorna -- Film Review

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Festival de Cannes, In Competition

While the Belgian-born Dardenne brothers are genetically incapable of making an uninteresting film, it must be admitted that "Le Silence de Lorna" -- though always eminently watchable -- is not up to the standards of their devastating 2005 Golden Palm winner, "The Child," or previous miracles like "The Son," "Rosetta" (winner of the Golden Palm in 1999), and "The Promise."

Thus, while their diminutive but devoted international fan base can be counted on to turn out for this new film as well, its success in most territories is going to be even more modest than usual. Ancillary possibilities, especially on DVD and Euro television, look more promising.

All the while maintaining their signature hand-held, quick-cut, slice-of-life aesthetic, the Dardenne brothers have ventured into new territory here. This time they focus their all-seeing camera on a young Albanian woman, Lorna, who has married a Belgian drug addict to obtain Belgian citizenship.
On the one hand, it's good to see the Dardennes trying something new, something beyond their normal cast of working-class Belgian feckless ne'er-do-wells. On the other hand, it feels like they don't really know this new territory very well -- neither in terms of the novel characters they're using, or the physical move to Liege from Seraing, the industrial town in which all their previous films have been set -- giving "Le Silence de Lorna" a highly derivative feel. Throw an Italian mobster and a Russian mafioso into the mix, and the resulting stew feels very foreign indeed.

As always in their films, the principal focus is on a moral dilemma faced by the chief protagonist. In this case, Lorna's gangster co-conspirator Fabio wants to kill off the drug addict, Claudy (played with intensity by Jeremie Renier, who debuted with the Dardennes at age 14 in "The Promise"), with an overdose of heroin. The more scrupulous, less ruthless Lorna wants get rid of Claudy by following the riskier course of faking grounds for divorce instead.

To this end, she bangs her arms against the door in one scene and smashes her forehead against the wall in another, all in order to provide evidence that the pathetic Claudy is abusing her. At the same time, and contradictorily, she is also trying to save him from his drug habit and in the process becomes emotionally attached to him.

The moral dilemmas in these films also always stem from untenable positions that the socially-disadvantaged characters find themselves in. In this regard, Lorna is only a slightly less vivid example of a sad lineup that the Dardennes have consistently offered up in an ongoing, powerful critique of the unjust world that some human beings continue to construct at the expense of others.

Cast: Arta Dobroshi, Jeremie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Alban Ukaj
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Screenwriters: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Producers: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Director of photography: Alain Marcoen
Production designer: Igor Gabriel
Costume designer: Monique Parelle
Editor: Marie-Helene Dozo
Production Companies: Les Films du Fleuve, Archipel 35
Sales: Celluloid Dreams
No MPAA rating, 105 minutes
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