Lorna’s Silence

Lorna’s Silence (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), originally from Albania, makes a deal with a local mobster, Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), in order to gain citizenship in Belgium. Her dream, once she has the proper identifications, is to move in with her boyfriend (Alban Ukaj) and open a snack bar.

Lorna is assigned by Fabio to marry a drug addict named Claudy (Jérémie Renier). A couple of days after she gains citizenship, Claudy is to be killed. This causes Lorna anxiety but, according to the men around her, it does not matter anyway because Claudy is just a drug addict. Finally, she is to marry a wealthy Russian, Andrei (Anton Yakovlev), who also needs Belgian citizenship. Once Andrei has what he wants, Lorna is free to go on with her life. Naturally, things go wrong.

Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, “Le silence de Lorna” is a great exercise in mood. I found it curious because we do not start off necessarily liking our protagonist. The way she treats Claudy as he struggles through his addiction is selfish and ugly. She is so detached from him, she cannot even hand him a glass of water when he begs her for one. She feels the need to put the water in a bowl, place it on the floor, and watches him drink it like a dog. As the pattern of their spurious relationship begins to crystallize, I became convinced that I knew exactly where it is headed.

The story takes another direction completely. This is the trickiest and most brilliant part of the screenplay. Because I assumed that I knew where the story is going to go, I was not as vigilant to the signs that hint at the important changes about to unravel. Before I knew it, the Dardennes have led me to a trap and I was suddenly uncertain as to how the characters might deal with the new cards they have been given.

While becoming a Belgian citizen remains to be Lorna’s primary motivation, she begins to consider other possibilities—options that are different from what Fabio has planned for her. Lorna’s inner turmoil between doing the right thing and taking what she wants is compelling to watch. Dobroshi’s androgynous face urges us to look closer because there is an interesting inconsistency between her actions and what is really going on in her mind.

The film is appropriately titled “Lorna’s Silence” because whenever our protagonist is silent in a car, in her apartment, or at work, she is thinking—thinking how she can outsmart Fabio, who seems to be an expert in the business of fake marriages, thinking about her dreams becoming reality, thinking that happiness is only an arm’s length away, and thinking of ways to make everyone happy without taking the life of just another junkie.

Lorna is willing to play dirty with the law but she hopes to come out of the fray unblemished. She may not be likable in the beginning, but the Dardennes have found a way for us to see ourselves in her without a typical character arc. Like Lorna, sometimes we think that if we only strategize a little smarter, we can get away with the repercussions. Life is strange in that it has a funny way of catching up with us eventually.

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