Sony // 2008 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // January 5th, 2010
Caught between love and the laws of the underworld.
Sibling writer/director team Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have been darlings of the international festival circuit for years, with phenomenal work on films such as La Promesse and L'enfant. Focusing on immigrant strife and the crime that falls naturally out of their plight, they have created brilliant and realistic portraits of the poor and downcast. With Lorna's Silence, the brothers sacrifice some of their typical realism for genre convention that, in the end, results in a film with considerably more heart and humanity than they have ever put forth.
Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), an Albanian immigrant, has just received her Belgian citizenship because of a sham marriage to Claudy (Jérémy Reneir, In Bruges), a junkie whose marginal societal status makes him a perfect mark. The criminal underground that arranged Lorna's deal intends for Claudy to OD, enabling newly naturalized Lorna to be a legal widow so she marry a Russian mobster to give him his own citizenship. Everything's in place until Claudy decides he wants to get clean and Lorna agrees to help him kick. Her act of mercy when she's so close to success, threatens not just her Belgian status and the money she's been promised, but her very life.
To call Lorna's Silence the pulpiest film the Dardenne Brothers have made is not to say that it is any less challenging or complex. Instead, the crime angle makes the film much more accessible. In doing so, however, the lose a little bit of the immediacy and emotional weight that their previous work but, if it's not quite as strong in every respect, it's still very good.
Like their previous work, Lorna's Silence focuses primarily on a singular character, in this case the titular Lorna. When we open on her with Claudy at their apartment, we don't know the extent of what's going on, but some things are already perfectly clear. There is no love in this marriage; Lorna treats Claudy like a grounded child, who acts like one in return. Claudy cries, begging for help, but Lorna doesn't care. She just wants to sleep, and not with him. We're quick to learn of his addiction and the marriage scam that has brought this loving couple together, but it quickly gets deep for everyone involved. While the intention is to wait for Claudy to OD to make Lorna a legal widow, nobody had a clue that some loser junky would want to kick. More than that, nobody expected that Lorna would find the warmth in her heart to help him, least of all Lorna. She doesn't love him, she love itinerant worker Sokol (Alban Ukaj); they even have the lease on a space for a cafe. When this is all said and done, they're going to get married and live happily with the money they've made off this scam. Yet, here she is, helping him kick, extending the deal and putting herself in danger. Add to this Lorna's potential pregnancy, certainly a sticking point for the Russian looking to buy her services, and she's screwing her whole life up for this, as they say, worthless junkie.
Newcomer Arta Dobroshi plays the titular role with near perfection, and I'll certainly be watching for her in the future. Her coldness turns gradually, almost imperceptibly, towards humanity. She is a gorgeous woman, no doubt, but her sadness is palpable, from her day to day slog at the dry cleaners to her quiet resolve to keep the baby, if she's really pregnant, no matter the consequences; the performance is amazing. She's not alone, however, everybody involved puts their best foot forward in this production. Renier, a veteran of the Dardenne's productions, is brilliant as Claudy, a sniveling wretch of a man, but one that, though he knows that the marriage is a sham, still has learned to lean on Lorna. He couldn't be more believable. While the film primarily focuses on this duo, the villains, such as they are in this generally amoral story, are suitably disgusting and hard-edged. In an odd stylistic touch, they are almost exclusively shot in profile, lending a sinister feeling to their scenes; just one of many formalist touches the filmmakers employ to effectively drive home their story.
Sony, as usual, does a fine job with their release of Lorna's Silence, though the lack of extras is certainly unfortunate. The video transfer is quite good, with clean, bright whites and deep, bold black levels. Starkly lit, with sharp contrast, the detail in the image never wanes. The sound is equally nice, with a strong surround mix that has noticeable separation in all channels. The dialog is crystal clear and the rear speakers get a fair workout. I would love to have heard a commentary, or at least a few interviews about the film, but unless you count ads for other movies as features, this is a bare bones release.
Phenomenal performances buoy Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's latest piece of cinematic beauty. The story doesn't have quite the strength of some of their other work. It's only a small step down, and the subject matter will really allow people, especially on this side of the pond, to sink their teeth into Lorna's Silence.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R