'Le Silence de Lorna'


Although 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 Palme d'Or winner, "The Child," or such previous miracles as "The Son," "Rosetta" (winner of the Palme in 1999) and "The Promise."

Thus, while their diminutive but devoted fan base can be counted on to turn out for this new film, its success in most territories will be even more modest than usual. Ancillary possibilities look more promising.

All the while maintaining their signature hand-held, quick-cut, slice-of-life aesthetic, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have ventured into new territory here. This time, they focus their all-seeing camera on a young Albanian woman, Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), 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 feckless working-class Belgian ne'er-do-wells. On the other hand, it feels as if they don't really know this new territory very well, giving "Le Silence" a derivative feel. Throw an Italian Mafioso and a Russian mobster into the mix, and the resulting stew feels very foreign indeed.

As always in their films, the focus is on a moral dilemma faced by the 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 "Promise"), with an overdose of heroin. The more scrupulous, less ruthless Lorna wants to 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 and smashes her forehead against the wall to provide evidence that the pathetic Claudy is abusing her. At the same time, and contradictorily, she also is trying to save him from his drug habit and becomes emotionally attached to him.

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