The Belgian Dardenne brothers, Luc and Jean-Pierre, are among the contemporary masters of the human condition, poets who paint films of the working class ordinary joe. With "Lorna's Silence," the Dardenne's have painted a broader portrait yet one that remains just as human, gritty and real as previous films such as "L'Enfant" and "Le Fils."
The Dardenne's focus their films rather squarely upon their characters, seldom allowing humanity to escape the camera lens. Indeed, the same is true in "Lorna's Silence," though there are times that Lorna is left in the background. Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is an opportunist, a young Albanian woman residing in Belgium who participates in and benefits from a marriage-for-sale scam run by Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione). She has married Claudy (Jeremie Renier), a rather pathetic, needy soul who aspires to kicking his heroin habit cold turkey. Fabio plans to arrange Claudy's death, then Lorna will marry a rich Russian while secretly planning to marry her lover, Sokol.
A problem is birthed when Lorna begins to develop feelings for the needy, sad Claudy and, rather than having him killed, decides to divorce him for reasons of non-existent cruelty.
While "Lorna's Silence" falls just shy of the Dardenne's last release, the masterful "L'Enfant" (also starring Renier), it remains far above the vast majority of American releases purporting to capture the human condition, human spirit or anything resembling a true, gritty characterization. The film, which is perfectly cast, works because as dramatic as are the goings on they feel intensely real and naturally manifested.
Fabio, for example, doesn't feel so much like a bastard of a character. Instead, the man Fabrizio Rongione brings to life onscreen feels truly like a man whose entire existence is motivated by money, power and a darkness that many may feel but few allow to actually surface.
As Lorna, Arta Dobroshi is a waifish picture of perfection. She is as human as her opportunistic self can allow her to be, a portrait of greed crashing into humanity and it is never completely clear which side will win.
Jeremie Renier, who was so magnificent in "L'Enfant" as the immature father who sold his baby only to try feverishly to buy him back, again offers the film's strongest performance as the drug-addicted, seemingly tortured Claudy.
The Dardenne's are unafraid to show the darkness of humanity, but they do so in a way that isn't lazy. Their characters aren't purely evil or purely good, but instead an often confusing blend of the best and worst that human beings can be. While they seemingly have a deeper fascination with the darkness, the Dardenne's are masters at enriching their films with just enough glimpses of light that it is impossible to truly love or hate virtually anyone in their films.
"Lorna's Silence" is beautifully, yet simply photographed by Alain Marcoen nicely complemented by the sparse, multi-shaded production design of Igor Michael. A stunning and powerful portrait of one woman's desperate search for redemption in an unmerciful world, "Lorna's Silence" is a not quite as successful revisit to past Dardenne themes. While "Lorna's Silence" may not be the best of the Dardenne's, it remains an intelligent, insightful film featuring a magnificent trio of performances from Renier, Rongione and the wondrously beautiful Dobroshi.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic