For 13 years, in features including La Promesse and L’Enfant, Belgium’s Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have grappled with characters attempting to come to terms with their moral responsibilities. And along the way, they’ve built a gripping body of work that ranks them among the most astonishingly gifted filmmakers you’ve probably never heard of.
Their latest film, Lorna's Silence, features the kind of complicated set-up that could turn into anything from gritty drama to farcical comedy: Albanian immigrant Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) has agreed to an arranged marriage with Belgian heroin addict Claudy (Jérémie Rénier) that will earn her both a citizenship card and a chance at a bank loan to open a restaurant with her boyfriend. But the gangster (Fabrizio Rongione) at the center of the deal is pulling most of the strings, including arranging whatever quick end to Lorna and Claudy’s marriage is necessary to marry her off again, this time to a Russian crime boss eager for his own citizenship piggybacking on hers.
In typical fashion, the Dardennes leave a lot unsaid, allowing certain key plot developments to manifest themselves in startling ways. If you’re used to cinema that holds your hand through the action, you may find yourself wondering if you’ve missed something.
At the center, though, is an exploration of how Lorna processes the possibility that her actions have consequences beyond her personal desires. Dobroshi—sporting a determined jaw that undercuts her pixie hairdo and dimples—turns in a magnificently complicated performance, as we watch her utilitarian view of the troubled Claudy soften, harden again, then tangle itself in a fascinating psychological response.
The Dardennes are usually so surefooted that it’s a bit startling when they choose to spell out part of that response in one late line of dialogue. It’s clear enough what’s going on in Lorna’s head without such explicitness—and it’s just as clear that no filmmakers turn the toxicity of guilt into more compelling drama.
Arta Dobroshi, Jérémie Rénier, Fabrizio Rongione