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Lorna's Silence

By Bret McCabe | Posted 9/23/2009

Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) and Sokol (Alban Ukaj) dream of a better tomorrow. Like many young couples in love, they're working hard to better themselves, squirreling money away so that, one day in the near future, they can save enough to open a snack bar. They even check out the properties in the Belgian city Liège that a bank, which is considering giving them a loan to start their business, might sign off on, and locate a three-room, three-story building with a back courtyard. It's a perfect spot for a few tables, a small kitchen, and living quarters upstairs.

Lorna's Silence being the creation of Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, though, nothing is going to come up roses. Since their 1992 Je pense à vous, the Dardennes have used filmmaking as an investigation into the shadowy economic realities of a multiethnic Europe, with its porous borders and immigrant labor. Lorna is an Albanian who marries Belgian junky Claudy (Dardenne regular Jérémie Renier) to gain a Belgian ID card; it's purely a business transaction. He helps her, she helps him kick. The deal is brokered by Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), a reptilian cab driver. And this marriage is only part of the plan. After Lorna gains her ID card, she and Claudy are to divorce, freeing her up to marry a Russian so that he can gain his Belgian ID card. It's a %u20AC10,000 Euro scheme, a sum that, after the Russian obtains his ID card, eventually frees her up to open the snack bar with Sokol, an Eastern European itinerant worker who takes dangerous jobs, such as the one at the nuclear power plant near Cologne that pays him %u20AC1,000 to be inside the reactor core for a mere minute.

This plot unfolds in narrative puzzle-pieces, as the Dardennes' intimate camera stalks Lorna's non-stop day: depositing money, working at a dry cleaner, talking to Sokol via public phone, meeting up with Fabio, and coming home to a junky who understands the nature of their marriage of convenience but requires more emotional care than Lorna may have imagined. And the title refers to the bargain Lorna has to make with herself if she wants to see Fabio's plan all the way through. She's not sure if she can.

It's a profoundly depressing journey, realized with an artful economy--and, in Dobroshi and Renier, two discomfortingly desperate performances--but don't let the heavy tone scare you away. Lorna's Silence fearlessly peers into global economy's fissures, but not for vicarious reality-show eavesdropping. Instead, it dramatizes the everyday underused with a blunt naturalism that's frequently as revelatory as it is anxious.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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