Film Review: Lorna's Silence

A worthwhile, if less powerful, offering from the Belgian masters of slice-of-life filmmaking.
Reviews

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

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 feckless, working-class Belgian 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 Lorna’s Silence 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 Jérémie Renier, who debuted with the Dardennes at age 14 in The 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 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.
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