July 22, 2009
Belgium / France / Italy / Germany
French / Albanian / Russian
105 Minutes — July 31, 2009
Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne [The Child]
Arta Dobroshi plays Lorna
We are immediately dropped into these characters’ lives. We are trusted to catch up on our own. Without someone spelling out every character and every motivation. This fact alone makes the first moments of LORNA’S SILENCE compelling. Lorna is at the bank where she makes a deposit. She is married, though clearly unhappily, to a man named Claudy, whose emaciation tells us that he’s an addict of some sort. Lorna is as cold as can be to this man. What has he done (besides get hooked on smack) to make her treat him this way? We are mostly in hand-held closeups at this point–in fact, this “you are there” quality will make the whole experience of the film much more visceral.
Claudy is clearly in terrible shape. He’s looking for companionship from Lorna, trying to get her to play some cards with him before bed. She then announces, I’m going to bed, adding “are you coming?” Which throws us for a loop as her body language, stoic face, and coldness towards him doesn’t exactly spell marital bliss. Alas, he needs to get his bed roll out of the other room and she sleeps in her bed while he tosses and turns out in the living room while trying to kick heroin–and not for the first time. This sounds like every other junkie-trying-to-clean-up movie that’s ever been made, but this heroin portion of the film really isn’t important. The film is about so much more.
They live in a dismal, drab apartment. She continually pulls out her ID to tell people she cares about that she’s “nearly Belgian.” The story becomes more clear. She has married Claudy in order to get a green card. She’s Albanian. The terms of the arrangement are spelled out: $5,000 Euros for marriage and $10,000 Euros for a divorce. Lorna is in a hurry for this divorce because it will be her turn to get paid when she marries “The Russian”, a crime boss of some stature. And so on, and so on, and so on.
What if you wanted to immigrate to a new country, but couldn’t do it legally? A sham marriage might be just the ticket. But the authorities are used to such capers, so it would really help Lorna’s case for divorce, if her Belgian husband abused her. But he can’t. So desperate and lonely is he, that her occasional tiny displays of caring and compassion mean everything to him. Perhaps she’s been supportive in prior attempts at quitting drugs.
There are harrowing scenes where he demands that she lock him in their apartment while she goes to work as a drycleaner so that he can’t leave to make a buy. Even more hard to watch are the scenes where Lorna pleads with Claudy to beat her, so that she can file a police report and get her divorce quicker. But he won’t. So she’ll have to bruise herself and blame it on him. But she’ll need a witness.
Lorna seems dead inside most of the time, but her eyes come alive with sparkle during the few meetings she has with her boyfriend, Sokol, another immigrant who is always traveling here and there to pick up whatever work he can. They all answer to Fabio who has the connections, the seed money, and the gun to run the whole enterprise. This is a story about the people we don’t notice. It reminded me of DIRTY PRETTY THINGS.
If Lorna claims spousal abuse, she’ll be questioned thoroughly, but if her husband were dead (he is a junkie after all), wouldn’t that make the whole situation a bit easier? Lorna wants to be rid of Claudy, she wants the $20K the Russian has promised, she wants to be out from under control of Fabio, and she wants to open a cafe with her beloved Sokol. But to her horror, she realizes that she has a conscience. If Claudy overdoses by his own devices, she can’t be held morally responsible. But if he really tries to get clean, asking her for help, doesn’t she have to support his decisions? Things aren’t as easy as they first appear.
This film is full of magnificent little moments. Claudy’s treatment ends and he promises to cook Lorna dinner. She receives a letter from a judge telling her that her divorce is final. Claudy, though expecting this to happen eventually, is not okay with it happening so soon, and puts on his jacket in order to go out and meet his connections. She refuses to let him go and he must physically fight her to get out of the apartment to score dope to drown his sorrow at losing his sham wife. This is a wordless scene that lasts about ten minutes. They awkwardly wrestle, she grabs him, she throws his key out the window after locking them both in, and then she reverts to the only urge that can possibly challenge the need for heroin. It is an incredibly touching scene–something I won’t soon forget. She is giving herself to him for comfort, for congratulations, for her own guilt about taking advantage of him, for thousands of other reasons. No dialogue is necessary.
This is actress Arta Dobroshi’s first major role and she is magnificent. Her big eyes are perfect at projecting hope, fear, apathy, and desperation. A scene where she’s questioned by some cops is a superb use of few words going a long way.
The film unfolds as a sort of mystery. Who is The Russian, what is the relationship between the two people who share the apartment, why does Lorna deposit money in the bank? The Dardennes make us do the work in finding out. It is easy to believe that Lorna was living her life in Belgium well before we started following her. There is a feeling of us sort of happening by, the camera picking up her story by accident, though it could be many immigrant’s story.
The last ten minutes play better as metaphor than as plot and I’m not sure they’re successful. But the rest of the film is spectacular.
LORNA’S SILENCETags: 8.4, Albanian, Dardenne Brothers, Drama, French, Russian