23 March 2010

Lorna's Silence

Written & Directed by: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Full credits at IMDb

Every scene in Lorna’s Silence (Le Silence de Lorna), a devastating depiction of Western decadence, suggests the point of view of a fly on the wall, or at least a nosy neighbor. But that naturalism is illusory. Though it might feel like Realism, like you’ve just been dumped into la vie de Lorna—watching phone calls, bank visits, work-shifts, preparations for bed—the scenes’ tiny details build to a broader and culturally critical portrait, like the confab with a Yellow Page’s rep in Gus Van Sant’s Last Days. It’s all been meticulously plotted. And just as meticulously scrubbed of any evidence to prove it.

An Albanian national, the title character (Arta Dobroshi) works as a laundress and moonlights as a wife: she marries first for Belgian citizenship, then for extra cash (someone marries her for citizenship) so she and her boyfriend can open that modest snack stand they’ve been dreaming of. Her life of modest crimes requires a certain coldness of character, but Lorna boasts a natural decency that proves her downfall. She goes above and beyond her duties as hired-bride trying to help her green-card husband (Jérémie Renier, a scrawny, veiny, itchy, shaky junkie on the withdraw) from reverting to his addiction; she even bloodies herself in a tricky attempt to save his life. Failing, she becomes complicit in murder.

The Dardennes, eschewing explosive or exploitative melodramatics, omit any bloodletting from the screen, leaving visible only the stress and pain of the everyday hustle. But stress and guilt press down on Lorna, ultimately driving her understatedly mad. It’s an unsettling picture of capitalistic impulses gone crazy, of a culture wherein, for a sackful of Euros, marriage is auctionable, life expendable, babies abortable. (The Bros. Dardennes’ last film, L’Enfant, covered similar territory: it focused on the black-market sale of a newborn.) Is this the cost of Westernization? What’s the solution? The film’s finale suggests that we go back to the starting point and try again: it ends in the forest, a state of nature as far away as possible from the cultural corruption of capitalism and its guns. Grade: A-

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