Not Looking Away
Compromise and connection in Belgium
by Molly Templeton
LORNA’S SILENCE: Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Cinematography, Alain Marcoen. Editing, Marie-Hélène Dozo. Starring Arta Dobroshi, Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione and Alban Ukaj. Sony Pictures Classics, 2009. R. 105 min.
|Arta Dobroshi in Lorna’s Silence|
The Dardenne brothers, Jeanne-Pierre Dardenne said in a recent interview, “work on portraits.” Their last film, L’enfant, was about a young thief (Jérémie Renier, a regular in their films) who sells his infant son on the black market. Their latest follows Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), an Albanian woman living in Belgium who has married a junkie in order to procure Belgian citizenship. The marriage was brokered by Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), who has another task for Lorna: When the marriage to the junkie, Claudy (Renier), ends, Lorna will marry a Russian who is willing to pay quite a bit to become Belgian.
Lorna goes through with these weddings because she wants to open a snack bar with her boyfriend, Sokol (Alban Ukaj). It’s a small and reasonable dream, and when Lorna finds the location for the café, her joy as she describes the building to Sokol over the phone brightens what is, for the most part, a spare and striking film about moral compromise and the mental and emotional repercussions of doing, or being privy to, a terrible thing. When the film opens, Lorna has been tolerating Claudy for some indefinite period of time; they live together, but she shuts herself away from him, suffering through his stumbling attempts to get clean. Still, their proximity breeds affection — an affection that finds its most basic form in an affecting and uncomfortable scene in which Lorna, trying to distract Claudy from the fix he so badly wants, realizes that she does care about him. What happens after that has a quiet and profound effect on Lorna, who begins to cling to a dream that’s far less realistic than the snack bar.
On SpoutBlog.com, Karina Longworth deftly described the Dardenne style as involving “a general hard-on for brutality wrapped in the mundane.” There’s a cruelty to the world in their films that’s born largely of distance, even though we’re usually up close with the characters, following them through Alain Marcoen’s handheld camera. It’s the distance of a world that slides right past the immigrants and thieves and poor people about whom the Dardennes tell stories. In the real world, people often look away from the skinny junkie, the nervous girl in the corner of the bar, alone in a group of men. The Dardennes find in Dobroshi’s pale, lovely face a magnet, a way to draw our gaze until the end, when it’s the only light in an unlikely darkness.
Lorna’s Silence opens Friday, Sept. 25, at the Bijou.