Along with information surrounding the wars, global warming, the recession, and salacious scandals, political pundits on 24 Hour News Networks have ensured that the topic of immigration is never left out of any given broadcast. And when you combine the amount of sheer noise being fired our way in endless broadcasts fixating solely on the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States it's fairly easy to get tunnel vision... no pun intended.
If in the same token, we do hear about the topic of changing citizenship overseas, it's usually when the media informs us of a new terror suspect by tracing the route the criminal had taken. In reality, however the bigger picture is that immigration-- by any means necessary-- occurs around the globe from mail order brides to human trafficking. And consistently, I've realized that it isn't broadcast media but rather the powerful medium of foreign film, which has become the most fascinatingly eye-opening and educational source in forcing us out of our U.S.A. focused thinking.
And in this emotionally stirring new DVD release from Sony Pictures Classics, two time Cannes Film Festival Palme D'Or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne expand upon their interest in the subject once more with Lorna's Silence, which earned the brothers a screenwriting award at Cannes.
Cinematically more fluid than the other works in terms of its look and feel, Lorna marks the Dardenne's first title to use a 35mm camera, which they decided early on “would not be constantly moving... [but] be limited [instead] to just recording images,” to accentuate their particularly naturalistic brand of filmmaking inspired from their extensive documentary work.
Moving beyond the docs and into the sea of invention, in the early '90s, the two put their degrees in philosophy and drama to dynamic use, collaborating as both writers and directors on narrative feature length fiction films as they embarked on the next phase of their career. And not only did the newer pictures garner them a much larger audience than they'd received via their nonfiction films but eventually the productions made such a profound impact that Rosetta inspired the name change of an actual “labor law designed to protect young workers.”
But before that title became additionally famous for bringing Belgium the country's first Palme D'Or from Cannes, my initial encounter with the Dardennes was through another moral roller-coaster comprised of labor, class system prejudice and illegal immigration abuses with their extraordinary La Promesse.
Despite the fact that Promesse was a bit rougher around the edges than the assured works that followed, the early success of both Promesse and Rosetta solidified the filmmakers' cinematic obsession and style of blurring the line between truth and artistic invention.
Through the filmic medium, the Dardennes lead both the characters and the viewers into the same existential journey that demands us to question just what we would do if we found ourselves in the same impossible yet always believable situations.
And since it echoes the preoccupations of the directors in terms of plot this is especially true in Lorna's Silence. Yet along with a different cinematic look, this time around it has a very different feel. In stark contrast to our own tunnel vision supplied by the media in terms of illegal immigration, the Dardennes give their conflicted heroine an unexpected version of tunnel vision as Lorna's greatest strength and weakness is her admittedly naive yet passionately love-fueled optimism wherein we grasp that she wholeheartedly believes the cliche that the end justifies the means.
Resembling a cross between Ellen Page (as GreenCine and I shared on Twitter) and a Three Colors: Blue era Juliette Binoche, Arta Dobroshi gives a mesmerizing performance as the Albanian Lorna whom we ascertain shortly into the movie, took part in a marriage scheme to gain Belgian citizenship by becoming the wife of helpless drug addict, Claudy (Jeremie Renier).
However, we're startled to learn that it's the first of two marriages needed to give Lorna her eventual freedom and enough money to divorce and open up a small eatery with her Italian-based boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj). And in this case, instead of the Mexico/US border crossing version of a Coyote, the man orchestrating what we fear will be the tragic opus of Lorna is a no-nonsense mobster named Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione).
And sure enough, what begins as a shady business transaction turns into an unpredictable codependent relationship. As Claudy swings back and forth from sobriety to addiction (all the while clinging to Lorna), Fabio puts a series of events in motion to remove “the addict” for good.
Thus, just like Claudy's citizenship was the lure to catch Lorna, Fabio's plan is to double down with more financially impressive bait to justify their time and investment, courtesy of Lorna's new status as a Belgian citizen. Planning for the future of Lorna's life after Claudy, Fabio has successfully ensnared a Russian mobster on the hook who is extremely eager to get his own legitimate Belgian identity card as well. And since Fabio has decided that a widowed Lorna is less likely to arouse suspicion then a quickie marriage followed by a quickie divorce and yet another quickie marriage, Lorna must decide whether or not her dream goal is worth the life of the man she calls Claudy but everyone around her simply calls “the addict.”
A challenging and intense work, Lorna's Silence is especially gripping because it takes its straightforward premise and layers it with unexpected twists, even though its course seems largely predestined given the title along with considering the contradiction for Lorna in that her “new life” will comes with the ultimate price of another life.
Admittedly while most filmmakers would've wanted to insert biographical details about Lorna and Claudy given the sheer amount of questions that flood our head as we wonder just who they really are and what has brought them to this particular point in their lives, the Dardennes refuse to follow conventional rules. Needless to say, their approach is sure to alienate some viewers. Yet by reminding us that nothing matters but the present, the "silence" of the past is indeed justified in Lorna's Silence as the film meanders towards an unsettling conclusion that is sure to linger.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.