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Friday, Jan. 23, 2009

'Le Silence de Lorna'

A deafening silence

In the life-view of Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, hardship is a prerequisite; survival the main objective; love and beauty incidental — a freak extravagance that sometimes falls from the sky to land on the lap.

Le Silence de Lorna Rating: (4.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Loveless: Jeremie Renier and Arta Dobroshi in "Le Silence de Lorna"

Director: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Running time: 105 minutes
Language: French
Opens Jan. 31, 2009
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Three-time winners of the Palme D'Or in Cannes, the Dardenne Brothers' filmmaking methods are a bit like the Coen Brothers: a lack of pretentiousness and a signature style; a penchant for bold, stark frames; and a willingness to stare at the underbelly of human living without fuss or excessive emotion.

The big difference is that the Dardenne Brothers' turf is, and always has been, the gritty backdrop of Belgium's industrial city of Liege, where they focus on characters who have to fight and struggle every single hour just to make it through the day. There's always humor, and often glamour, in a Coen Brothers' story, while in the world of the Dardennes, there are only people whose chips are always down, and who are not very good at the game of life to begin with.

Lorna, in "Le Silence de Lorna," is one of them. She's a young Albanian immigrant who works 10-hour shifts in a dry cleaners, and, at first glance, doesn't have much going for her. It turns out,however, that she's making money on the side with a fake marriage scam for Eastern Europeans seeking Belgian passports.

Lorna secured her own passport through a loveless marriage to heroin junkie Claudy (Jeremie Renier), who has given her his bedroom and tries not to bother her. Lorna's healthy presence in his apartment triggers a desire to clean himself up, but his requests for friendship and affection only arouses her contempt. Besides, Lorna has little time or emotion to waste on her so-called husband; she and her Albanian boyfriend, Sokol (Alban Ukaj), are saving up to open a bar in Liege. While Lorna works at the cleaners and endures life with Claudy, Sokol farms himself out on short-term labor jobs to nuclear power plants all over Europe, where the pay is good but the work potentially lethal.

In one poignant sequence, Lorna and Sokol manage five minutes together in a busy parking lot. Sokol is on his way to Italy in a truck crammed with other workers and Lorna has begged off work an hour early to make it there. At that moment, locked in each other's arms like they never want to let go, they are a wildly romantic couple, But, apart and individually, they're not very nice: Lorna is unyielding and brittle, while Sokol's main preoccupation is money.

The story hovers on the question of whether they have always been like this or have just become hapless victims of circumstance. Lorna seems to feel it's the latter: That when they get the bar and their own little house, she and Sokol can allow themselves the luxury of being kind. In the meantime, Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), the boss of the marriage-scam operation, engineers a neat little incident where Claudy dies from an overdose, freeing Lorna for another fake wedding.

Lorna has never been that tough and Claudy's death leads to her mental disintegration. In the end, all that had seemed so important to her (including Sokol) ceases to matter.

Had Lorna been a different type of young woman, she could have moved on, if not to complete happiness then at least to success. But, in the end, she has stopped caring, even about money. And, at the end, as dusk falls and alone on a narrow bed, she closes her eyes, but there's no rosy view of the future to lull her to sleep. The movie makes no comment or, God forbid, judgments about her predicament. Lorna remains silent and all around her, the world is quiet.

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