Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Dardenne Brothers: Lorna’s Silence

Liège is a city with a rich cultural history, but the recently naturalized Lorna almost never leaves the industrial quarter. Still, she and her fellow Slavic immigrants will take drastic measures to stay in the Belgian city, the least of which being marriage, in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Lorna’s Silence (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles.

Lorna’s Belgian citizenship papers are the result of a commercial transaction. She married Claudy, a Belgian drug addict whose habit makes him disposable. At least, that is what small-time gangster Fabio is counting on. After paying Claudy to marry Lorna, he intends to arrange a fatal overdose for the guileless junkie, so the newly legal Lorna can in turn marry a shady Russian for immigration purposes.

Initially, Lorna agreed to the scheme to raise the money to open a snack bar with her fiancé Sokol, feeling nothing but disgust for her husband of convenience. However, when Claudy tries to get straight, she begins to develop an unlikely affection for him. Suddenly, she finds herself scrambling to arrange a quickie divorce to save Claudy, allow her to marry to the Russian, and live happily ever after with Sokol. Of course, doing business with the underworld usually does not lead to neat storybook endings.

Though the Dardennes’s Cannes Award-winning screenplay has elements of a gritty crime story, it is a far cry from genre cinema. Instead, it is a stark character study of a woman who reaches her breaking point, and is eventually pushed beyond it. Like many others, she has resorted to commoditizing herself for financial reasons, reducing her humanity to a residency card and a marriage license.

In the challenging lead role, Arta Dobroshi withstands the mercilessly close examination of Alain Marcoen’s unvarnished cinematography. She dramatically conveys the churning fears and stirrings of conscience beneath her frigid façade. However, the standout performance comes from frequent Dardenne collaborator Jéremié Renier, expressing the pain, confusion, and basic humanity of the tragic Claudy.

The Dardennes offer viewers an intimate look into a grim, strife-filled world, where desperation and conscience vie for a woman’s soul. It presents a drab, inhospitable vision of Liège that would probably alarm the Belgian chamber of commerce, if not for the filmmakers’ prestigious international reputation as the country’s leading filmmakers. It is a darkly naturalistic film, but it has a definite moral center that is quite compelling. Recommended for discerning viewers, Silence opens tomorrow (7/31) in New York at the Cinema Village.