Review: "Lorna's Silence"

After seeing the Dardenne brothers' Palme D'Or winning L'enfant several years ago, I was hoping my disappointment was just an isolated occurrence. It was one of those films that just didn't jive for me, despite its almost universal acclaim.

So going into Belgian directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's latest film, Lorna's Silence, I went in determined to find out whether or not my reaction to L'enfant was limited to that particular film, or if, for some reason, I'm just not in tune with the Dardennes' particular sensibilities.

The answer, surprisingly enough, turned out to be a strange mix of both. Lorna's Silence is a stronger film than L'enfant both in terms of story and structure. I never bought L'enfant's central premise or its denouement, and while the story behind Lorna's Silence is admittedly more complicated, it actually makes sense.

The Dardennes specialize in sparse, socially conscious dramas, not unlike the British "kitchen sink" films, that center around some dire, socially relevant conflict as seen through the eyes of the lower class or societal outcasts.

Arta Dobroshi as Lorna. Photo taken by Christine Plenus, 2007, © Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

In Lorna's Silence, we are introduced to Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), an Albanian immigrant living in Belgium, trying to obtain her citizenship through a mob deal by marrying Claudy (Jeremie Renier), a drug addict who agrees to the arranged marriage. But, true to form, the mob has other plans for both of them, planning to use Lorna after she obtains citizenship to marry other immigrants for the same purpose. Not wanting their operation to catch the attention of the police, they conspire to kill Claudy by overdosing him, ignoring Lorna's request for a divorce.

But as the plan comes ever closer to fruition, Lorna begins to feel real affection for Claudy, who she has helped overcome a debilitating drug addiction. Torn between her friendship with Claudy and freedom to live with her lover, Sokol (Ulban Ukaj), Lorna is faced with an impossible choice, does she remain silent, or speak up against the mob and save Claudy, at the risk of revealing herself?

Left to Right: Jeremie Renier as Claudy, Arta Dobroshi as Lorna. Photo taken by Christine Plenus, 2007, © Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

This moral quandary provides the backbone of Lorna's Silence, and the conflict is hauntingly embodied by Dobroshi's powerful performance. By the time the situation becomes compounded in the film's final stretch, the film reaches an intense fever pitch, taking on a riveting immediacy, and more compelling than the sometimes languorous set-up. The upside is that the Dardennes reward the audience's patience with the gut-wrenching finale.

Stylistically, the film shares a lot of similarities in its bare-bones structure with the current Romanian cinema, and while, as a whole, I prefer the Romanian films, I couldn't help but see some superficial similarities to Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days in the film's final third. The Dardennes tend to build their films on potentially outlandish scenarios, but unlike their previous effort, Lorna's Silence makes it all work. I believed it, and that's the important thing. The pregnant pauses and Dreyer-like silences not only create atmosphere, they enrich the narrative, lending even more weight to the already impossible situation. It is a dark and engrossing drama brought to life by a strong and assured central performance that only improves with distance. This is a film to be reflected upon and mulled over, and that, I think, is the hallmark of great filmmaking.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

LORNA'S SILENCE; Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; Stars Arta Dobroshi, Jeremie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Ulban Ukaj; Rated R for brief sexuality/nudity, and language; In French and Albanian w/English subtitles.


Charles Lyons said…
Seeing this tonight. Will report back here w/ thoughts...
Jeff McMahon said…
I thought L'Enfant was one of their weaker films as well. If you haven't, you should try and see La Promesse or Rosetta, they're both terrific.
Sam Juliano said…
I disagree on L'ENFANT, which may be their greatest film of all. Both ROSETTA and LA PROMESSE are outstanding works. As far as LORNA'S SILENCE, it seemed to lode momentum at the half way point, as the narrative became somewhat contrived. But it's still a Dardenne film, and as such worthwhile anyway.

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