In 'Lorna's Silence,' Choices That Speak Volumes

WIDE: Arta Dobroshi and Jeremie Renier in 'Lorna's Silence'

hide captionIt's supposed to be strictly business when Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) marries Claudy (Jeremie Renier) for the sake of his EU citizenship — but affection gets in the way, and the situation gets ever more complicated.

Christine Plenus/Sony Pictures Classics

Lorna's Silence

  • Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
  • Genre: Foreign
  • Running Time: 105 minutes

Rated R: Brief sexuality and nudity, language

With: Arta Dobroshi, Jeremie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Alban Ukaj

Lorna's Silence, the latest underclass drama from the Belgian writer-director brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, opens in a bank — and that's entirely by design. The title character, an Albanian immigrant in Belgium, counts her growing stash of euros. But the essential calculation Lorna makes — though it's a common one among the filmmakers' protagonists — is not strictly financial: She must determine whether she can afford compassion.

While this theme retains some poignancy, Lorna's Silence doesn't equal the emotional impact of its predecessors. First-timers may very well be stunned by the directors' fierce worldview, but for Dardenne veterans, the movie is something of a rerun.

Documentary makers who turned to reality-grounded fiction in the mid-'90s, the Dardenne brothers specialize in people who have been excluded — or who have excluded themselves — from Western Europe's affluence. Their characters include junkies, petty criminals and exploited immigrants, but also strivers obsessed with attaining middle-class comfort and security.

Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is one of the latter. Working a day job at a dry cleaner, she is accumulating cash to buy a snack bar she can run with her Ukrainian boyfriend (Alban Ukaj). Neither of them is a legal resident of the European Union, but Lorna's working on it: She married a Belgian heroin addict for citizenship. When she gets it, she'll divorce the hapless druggie and marry a Russian gangster, making him also a Belgian — in exchange for more euros.

But Fabio, the local fixer who arranged both marriages, doesn't intend for Lorna to divorce Claudy (Jeremie Renier, who previously starred in the Dardennes' La Promesse and L'Enfant). To Fabio's way of thinking, the advantage of junkies is that no one is very surprised when they overdose.

Lorna has earlier implicitly agreed to Claudy's death, but after living with the delicate, weak-willed man for a while, she begins to feel some tenderness for him. She even attempts to help Claudy kick his habit, eliminating the emotional barrier between them and fighting off a drug dealer.

Jeremie Renier and Arta Dobroshi i i

hide captionClaudy, a heroin addict, begs Lorna to help him kick his habit and avoid death — but his death is exactly what local fixer Fabio, who's arranged another marriage transaction for Lorna, has in mind.

Christine Plenus/Sony Pictures Classics
Jeremie Renier and Arta Dobroshi

Claudy, a heroin addict, begs Lorna to help him kick his habit and avoid death — but his death is exactly what local fixer Fabio, who's arranged another marriage transaction for Lorna, has in mind.

Christine Plenus/Sony Pictures Classics

Deviating from Fabio's script, Lorna decides to file for divorce on grounds of physical abuse. When she can't convince Claudy to beat her, she inflicts the bruises herself.

Like the protagonists of previous Dardenne movies — notably the title character of Rosetta — Lorna is about to learn that intense determination and self-reliance aren't always enough. Other people also have plans, and sometimes those people are more powerful, or simply more ruthless.

Stylistically, Lorna's Silence doesn't have the edge of the brothers' earlier films. Their trademark hand-held camera is less jumpy, and it keeps more distance from the characters. Yet the overall vibe remains stark, and is rarely warmed by music.

Joining the filmmakers' stock company, including Fabrizio Rongione as Fabio, Dobroshi gives the sort of cool yet intense performance that characterizes the brothers' work. Although the scenario is a bit labored, the acting is utterly natural.

In fact, watching Lorna's attempt to balance self-interest and empathy can be heartbreaking. If Lorna's Silence as a whole doesn't rank among the Dardennes' best, it does follow the money to moments and characters that are unforgettable.

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