Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes are respected architects of stark, minimalist filmmaking. That and a penchant for dark, tightly wound dramas about young fringe types — druggies, knockabouts, immigrants, etc. — struggling in the Belgian city/province of Liege constitute their basic game. The bullshit-free moral fibre in their films qualifies them as first-rate guys. They’re certainly admired by the critical elite the world over for this.
And yet I was close to enraged by the actions of Arta Dobroshi‘s main character in La Silence de Lorna, which I saw this morning. Which means I felt strongly irked by the Dardenne brothers’ screenplay. Which means, despite the feeling and focus that went into it, that I didn’t care for the film. At all.
Lorna (Dobroshi) is an Albanian immigrant who’s married a sickly, fair-haired junkie named Claudy (Jeremie Renier) in order to get her Belgian citizenship. She’s done so as part of a scheme orchestrated by a rich Russian who will pay her, once she’s a citizen, to marry another guy, a Russian, who wants his own citizen card. Her operator is a sharp, feral-eyed cab driver named Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione). But after the marriage scams are completed Lorna’s real plan is to hook up with her lover Sokol (Alban Ukaj) and use the money she’ll have earned to start a snack-bar business.
The problem is that she develops a soft spot for Claudy, despite the words “pathetic loser” all but stamped on his forehead. The guy is wretched refuse personified, but his whining weakness arouses her maternal urges. He’s trying to kick heroin as the film begins, and during Act One she finds his mewing infuriating — I certainly did. When she learns, however, that Fabio feels it would be better to intentionally overdose Claudy rather than pursue a plan in which Lorna will obtain a divorce from him due to (faked) domestic abuse, she starts feeling guilty. Naturally.
She manages to obtain the divorce notwithstanding, clearing the way to marrying the Russian guy. But she feels so protective of Claudio (and so torn up about being in collusion with guys who might kill him) that one night, in order to keep him from going back on the street to score more smack, she impulsively makes love to him. Fabio, not trusting Claudy to keep quiet about the scheme, has him killed soon after, just to be safe. Which of course makes Lorna feel all the more pained, even though she has done everything necessary to dissuade Fabio from offing him.
Then she comes to believe that she’s pregnant with Cloudy’s child, even though she’s soon after told by a doctor that she’s not. Then she decides to pull out of the snack-bar plan with Sokol and return to Albania. And then…
In other words, Lorna is initially willing to turn a blind eye to the connivings of scumbags in order to get a leg up, but her sense of moral failure is so acute after Cloudy’s death that she effectively becomes Cloudy and pretty much lets it all go to hell.
Obviously her guilt over a junkie’s demise makes Lorna a tragic figure — your heart goes out to her. Compassion for society’s lowest and weakest is the highest rung of humanism, but dammit, there’s more to tough, morally conflicted situations than just feeling badly about them. Life is hard and then you die. As the woman who lived upstairs from Stanley and Stella Kowalski said in A Streetcar Named Desire, “Sometimes you just have to keep going.”
Lorna delivers some payback to one of the bad guys in the final stretch. This provides a certain satisfaction, or at least a hopeful feeling that she’s capable of more than passive fantasizing. But the story, which I found more and more listless as it went along, left me with nothing to grow on or feel solid about.
We all feel awful about the bad things we’ve done. I’ll never get over my having beaten a turtle with a heavy stick and causing its shell to bleed when I was seven or eight. (I thought it might be a cousin of a snapping turtle and that it might bite my fingers off.) But you have to somehow get past this. Make amends for your sins, devote yourself to kindness, start a turtle farm. But get on the horse and do what you need to do.
I’m now back in the Orange Cafe and writing up a fast interview piece on the sharp and gifted James Toback and his extremely well-received (even by Cannes standards) Tyson, an emotional, straight-to-the-point portrait of the former heavyweight champ. I have between now (7:10 pm) and 9:30 or so to finish and publish, as I need a good seat for the 10 pm screening of James Gray‘s Two Lovers.
Tyson director James Toback during our brief chat about an hour ago at the Gray d’Albion bar — 5.19.08, 5:50 pm
Toback and Tyson publicist Cynthia Swartz of 42West — 5.19.08, 5:35 pm.
From the 2nd floor (1st etage) balcony cafe at the Martinez Hotel, just before yesterday’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona sit-down with Woody Allen, Penelope Cruz and Rebecca Hall — Sunday, 5.18.08, 11:28 am
Yesterday afternoon’s Indy 4 press conference — Sunday, 5.18.08, 3:42 pm
Petit Majestic bar, site of a nightly street party
Framed still of Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack during their May 1972 Cannes visit on behalf of Jeremiah Johnson.
With the exception of catching this morning’s showing of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes‘ Le Silence de Lorna (which I all but hated), a good chunk of the day — close to six hours — was eaten up by another missing-suitcase search. Hours of waiting and walking back and forth to my apartment, pleading with the Air France ladies at the local office, making expensive cell-phone calls to four or five Air France lost-baggage reps, etc. But the bag and I finally met up about an hour ago at the Majestic Hotel.
The bag was delivered to the Majestic at 9:37 am two days ago, only no one at Air France thought to call or e-mail me about this. This information came from the Air France employees at the walk-in office. Relieved, I walked right over to the Majestic. The concierge, however, said no — wasn’t there, bad information, very sorry. Back to the Air France office to ask “what the hell?” One of the women eventually put me on the phone late this morning with an Air France baggage detective who told me it had absolutely been delivered to my apartment on rue 14 Juliette, in care of a Monsieur Gilles.
So I humped it back there (about a 20-minute walk) but found no “Gilles” on the tenant list. I spent a good two hours knocking on every door in the building, asking everyone who answered if M. Gilles lived there. No dice. I left a note written in moron-level French on the door of the building manager, who was off working. I also spent part of that time calling Air France reps, asking who signed for it. Nobody knew squat.
I finally went back to the Air France office around 2 pm and was told the information about the bag having been dropped at the apartment building was wrong (sorry) and that the bag was definitely and absolutely sitting at the Majestic — and had been there, as they said earlier, since Saturday morning. Back to the Majestic and a chat with a different concierge guy who immediately said “ah, voila!” and pointed to it, sitting four or five feet away. Absent six days and there it finally was.
So the primary bad guys, of course, were the Air France delivery guys and their bosses for (a) taking four days to deliver the bag from Paris To Cannes and (b) declining to notify me of its arrival. The secondary villains were the Majestic concierge staffers who blew me off late this morning, not caring to look for or ask about the bag because I’m not a paying guest and, I’m guessing, therefore considered a nuisance. This despite the fact they’d been told to deliver it to Pete Hammond, who is staying there.
There will be blood when I get back to Paris and file my report about the stuff I had to buy (including a pair of white pants) to keep myself going without looking too scuzzy.