Lorna’s Silence feels like the Dardenne brothers most conventional film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Son is probably my favorite of theirs, and all of their usual technique is definitely still intact here.
A friend of mine once described the Dardennes tactic as “grabbing you by the throat and not letting go.” I think that’s pretty good. What he’s referring to, I think, is their insistence on staying with a singular character for long (sometimes overlong) periods of time, where we are forced to watch even long moments of inaction, their insistence on close-ups, and their perpetually handheld camera. I’m sure their diegetic soundtracks work their way into that description as well.
Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is an immigrant in Belgium. She gained her citizenship through a marriage arranged by a mobster to the drug-addicted Claudy (Jeremie Renier). This mobster (Fabio – Fabrizio Rongione) wants to kill Caludy via a fake overdose so that Lorna can marry Andrei (Anton Yakovlev) and thus gain him citizenship in a vicious, endless cycle.
If we’re looking back at the Dardenne’s filmography there are more than a few tropes we can discern that garner them the mark of auteur. One, that I think is overlooked, is their tendency to have one moment of joy amidst an otherwise dark depressing narrative. That moment in Lorna’s Silence comes after Claudy has been released from the hospital and cured of his addiction. He buys a bicycle. He and Lorna part ways, though this time it’s not in the painful, screaming way we’ve seen to this point.
Instead, Claudy rides off on his bike. Lorna, with her only smile in the film, runs playfully after him. He rides faster and waves at her as he disappears. It’s pure bliss. Glee, even. It actually makes you smile while watching it, if for no other reason than wanting desperately to have a reprieve from the overwhelming sense of gloom and doom hanging about the film.
SMALL SPOILERS BELOW: What makes this moment even more successful is the cut from this. The Dardenne’s cut directly to Lorna packing a bag. Then to her in a store buying a shirt. Then to her at the morgue where she hands over Claudy’s old belongings and the new shirt and asks if she can see his body one last time.
It’s a shocking time cut and one of the few times they go against their strategy of relative-real time. And for a good reason. By placing the aftermath of Claudy’s offscreen death directly on the heels of the aforementioned “happy moment” the directors further separate both out, pushing both to extremes. It’s sort of like an extended montage effect, where, on its own, the bike scene is happy and where, on its own, the morgue scene is sad, but when placed together via this temporal ellipsis, both are more so.
The new shirt that Lorna buys is also a nice touch, and one that isn’t given the Hollywood treatment (ie close-up on the shirt, someone questioning about it, etc). It’s her way of reworking Claudy’s image for the better – other people’s image of Claudy – after his death. It’s really quite touching.
The main misstep for me in here is Lorna’s tendency, which takes place in the third act, to talk to her unborn child. We’ve learned that she may have had a hysterical pregnancy. As she escapes from Fabio, and from likely death, she frequently talks to her stomach in a caring, and at times conspiratorial tone. I think I get the intention: Lorna finally has some purpose. This is the remnant of a man she feels guilty about and that she may have actually loved (which is why she so staunchly wants the child to exist) but actually talking to it feels false. It does, as they are sometimes subtly wont to do, lead to a disguised optimistic ending. But still, it’s the only beef I have with an otherwise beautiful and heartfelt film.