DVD Review: ‘Lorna’s Silence’ Casts Quietly Hypnotic Spell

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CHICAGO – Silence speaks volumes in the cinema of Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Their characters are often young people living on society’s fringes, who keep their thoughts internalized rather than discuss them out loud. There is no music, no narration, and none of the usual cinematic conventions employed to tell the audience what to think or how to feel.

“Lorna’s Silence” is the Dardenne Brothers’ fourth consecutive feature to be honored at the Cannes Film Festival. They are the only Belgian filmmakers that have won the Palme d’Or, which they claimed for both “Rosetta” (1999) and “L’enfant” (2005). Growing up in Belgium’s postindustrial French-speaking region, the Dardennes made a great number of documentaries before venturing into narrative film. The influence of their upbringing and the observant tone of their nonfiction work are apparent in every film they’ve made.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 4.0/5.0
DVD Rating: 4.0/5.0

Like many Dardenne protagonists, Lorna is a woman trapped in an objective world. Her desperate needs have led her to become involved with members of the criminal underworld. If she cooperates with their plans, she’ll get what she wants. Yet if she strays from their path, she will die. In lesser hands, such material could easily turn into a conventional crime thriller. What makes the Dardennes’ work so powerful is its inherent objectivity. Unlike American filmmakers, such as Lee Daniels (“Precious”), who blatantly sympathize with their troubled heroes every step of the way, the Dardennes follow their characters as if they were subjects in a Maysles Brothers documentary. The hero in a Dardenne film is easily identified merely because he (or, in this case, she) is the only character who appears in every frame of the picture.

Lorna’s Silence was released on DVD on January 5th, 2010.
Lorna’s Silence was released on DVD on January 5th, 2010.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Watching a Dardenne film is like unraveling a mystery. The details of the plot reveal themselves gradually, increasing the tension through key lines of dialogue and subtle facial expressions. The editing keeps the viewer off-balance, often cutting in the midst of action, while allowing most of the story’s jarring revelations to occur off-camera. Thus, the best way to experience “Lorna’s Silence” is to know as little as possible.

Here’s just a few basic plot points to help set the stage: Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) and her boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj) are Albanian emigrants in need of money and a permanent resident status in Belgium. They will obtain both if they cooperate in a scheme hatched by gang member Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione). He plans to pay a struggling junkie, Claudy (Jérémie Renier), to marry Lorna, thus granting her citizenship. She then must re-marry Andrei (Anton Yakovlev), a Russian mobster also in need of a passport. In return, Lorna and Sokol will be awarded enough money to fulfill their dreams. Yet in order for Lorna’s second marriage to be possible, Fabio has decided to kill Claudy.

The entire film sinks or soars on the strength of its central performance from thirty-year-old Dobroshi, who is utterly mesmerizing. Her face is a constant source of fascination, as it wordlessly conveys her conflcited feelings while her mouth remains silent. Renier is a veteran of the Dardennes’ work, and his pitifully needy character is initially as unsympathetic as the lowlife he played in “L’enfant.” Yet his scenes with Dobroshi emerge as the heart of the film, though Lorna’s motives and emotions remain ambiguous. Is she racked with guilt, or is she beginning to have feelings for the doomed man?

Though the film won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes, there are moments when the Dardennes’ dialogue hits the expository nail a tad too tidily on the head. When Lorna finally breaks her silence toward the end, her lines are entirely unnecessary, since they articulate what was already apparent in Dobroshi’s eyes.

“Lorna’s Silence” is presented in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio and accompanied by English subtitles. There are no extras apart from a trailer and previews for new films worth seeking out at an art house near you, including Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” and Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.”

‘Lorna’s Silence’ is released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and stars Arta Dobroshi, Jérémie Renier and Fabrizio Rongione. It was written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne. It was released on January 5th, 2010. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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