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.