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Lorna's Silence

There are probably no other prominent contemporary filmmakers who focus so intently on the moral plight of the European underclasses (and, by extension, this country’s) as the Belgian brothers Dardenne, Jean-Pierre, and Luc. In their five previous films they’ve depicted in usually stark, aesthetically unenhanced terms not only the material deprivation which their protagonists experience but the life-altering ethical consequences their responses can entail. In films like L’enfant—the last Dardennes’ film to hit Buffalo—the moral dilemmas flow from decisions made in defiance or ignorance of social and legal rules. The Dardennes’ implicit point seems to be that want and desire place their characters in unusual situations where they grapple with strange new moral quandaries.

The title character (Arta Dobroshi) in the Dardennes’ latest effort is a deeply involved participant in a particularly ugly racket. An Albanian native, Lorna has married a Belgian junky named Claudy (Jeremie Renier) in order to gain employment credentials in Liege. The cutthroats who arranged this plan to murder him so that Lorna can be free to marry a Russian who wants to move to Belgium. But when Claudy decides to clean up, and the emotionally closed-off Lorna begins to have qualms, her position deteriorates dangerously.

As in L’enfant, we’re required to entertain the potentially implausible, rapid discovery of a moral dimension and conscience. In the other film, the Dardennes’ control of the material evoked a sympathy that could trump skepticism. In this one, they don’t succeed as well.

Neither the details of the scheme and Lorna’s attempt to alter it, nor the eventual consequences are persuasive enough. Dobroshi’s performance is calmly competent and nuanced and some of the film’s scenes are brought off strongly in the Dardennes’ usual dramatically restrained fashion. But their film has a merchanistic tenor and when they try to ascend to a kind of dark Dostoyevskian lyricism and irony at the end, the effect is too heavy-handed.

george sax

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