Wednesday, 3 December 2008

the silence of lorna (w&d jean-pierre & luc dardenne)

The Dardenne brothers are figures who float at the edge of the Anglo-Saxon consciousness. Occasionally fashionable, a film of theirs will be feted, before they're forgotten again. The Silence of Lorna hasn't generated much critical acclaim, but in some small way it seems as though their films are an event, as filmmakers they're worth checking out no matter what they're doing. Not a state that can be sustained indefinitely - pace Allen and even Scorsese - but The Silence of Lorna suggests that the brothers are near the top of the game, and if this was a weekly review of note rather than an unsung warble from the blogoshpere I'd be beseeching as many readers as possible to go and see it.

The film is Lorna's story. Played with a restraint which is the all the more impressive for those brief moments, crucial to the narrative, when it's broken, by Arta Dobroshi. Lorna features in just about every scene in the film. She's an immigrant, who has settled in Belgium, and married Claudy, a hopeless junkie, in order to get her visa. This is part of a deal whereby she will marry a rich Russian following the end of her marriage to Claudy, after which she will finally get to settle down with her sweetheart, Sokol. Together they plan to open a cafe, and you kind of know that Lorna possesses the drive and the nerve to make it work, to become a 21st century success story of the globalised world.

There's only one hitch, which is that the fixer of the deal, Fabio, has decided the safest thing for everyone is if Claudy has an 'accidental' overdose and dies. No matter what the harsh realities of life dictate, and in spite of the fact their marriage is a sham, Lorna can't come to terms with this. When Claudy decides to quit heroin,  he turns to Lorna for help, and she can't help but provide it. She tries to fix a divorce instead, and, when Claudy's on the point of regressing back to drugs, she sleeps with him. After Claudy dies of an overdose, arranged by Fabio, Lorna realises or decides she's pregnant, and in spite of the fact she knows its going to fuck everything up, she refuses to have an abortion.

It's a simple tale, and classic storytelling. The neo-realist filming style, as plain and unadorned as can be, contributes to the narrative's believability. In another context the story might be melodramatic, but in this one, and told this way, it feels like a report from the front line of the global village, where the simple act of choosing to keep a child can become one of almost absurd courage. Lorna's insistence of preserving her humanity in spite of the price she will have to pay for it is heroic, and leads to a denouement containing a whole forest full of tension.

The directors succeed in coaxing a remarkable performance from Dobroshi, as well as from Jeremie Renier as Claudy. The film's simplicity is its strength. The Silence of Lorna is a film made in the image of its heroine: discovering a sense of value in what lies beneath the surface, in spite of the world's constant seeking of value in what can be seen on the surface alone.

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