The meek and modest brothers from Belgium have once again flavored a film for us. Released in theaters in Belgium, in August 2008, it made its arthouse run in the states a few months ago. As of January 5, it has finally been reborn on DVD. (My rental has been sent back to Netflix; I can't wait to get a copy of my own.)
Lorna's Silence easily holds its own in the worship-filled oeuvre of the Dardennes. It's hard, as usual, to put a finger on exactly why the story moves us. That word that I hate, "Spiritual," comes to mind. Experiencing their works is often like spending an hour in emotive prayer at your church altar, feeling lifted up and assured when you're done, but leaving and forgetting what you prayed about in the first place. In Lorna's Silence, you might not forget what you prayed about -- but you might instead remember that you fervently prayed over a situation of your own invention. As in: a focused plea for help over something pretend, something you made up.
This strange "remembering prayer experience" is something like the feeling the Dardennes bring to the heart via the screen every time you encounter their latest film. It's euphoric, and certainly a treasure, but describing the why remains a constant linguistic challenge. Bresson's aura hangs somewhere overhead, heavily, like a ghost blowing smoke into the air.
In Lorna's story, we're introduced to a stubborn and beautiful Albanian woman who will show the world she will not easily be controlled. Belgium gives her a newfound sense of freedom, and everyone around her knows it. Even the mob of criminals she transacts with every day waver in how much they can trust her. Her decisions are based on her own gut instincts; her sporadic tendencies transform into danger.
It's a story of immigration, drug addiction, love, betrayal, loss, guilt, sadness, and... something else. It's the something else here that is like that moment of surrender that you can't quite put your finger on. It has something to do with the psyche of Lorna and how her brain deals with her own immorality. (It's in this sense that comparisons to Bresson, particularly Au hasard Balthazar, leap to mind.) Lorna was made to be a good character, but somehow, somewhere she got off track. Life hit her, perhaps from the borders of Albania. She responds, but in doing so she forgets that she is good. Isolated in nature, separated from all her bad boy city friends,she will recover a form of goodness. But it's still only a form.
Lorna is the character who was made to be good but the script bent her into other things.
I've been talking about Lorna with some friends, especially her fate in the final few seconds of the story. We've wondered whether the rather strange ending might have taken even the filmmakers by surprise. It went exactly where it was supposed to go; no force above or below could hold this ending back. Logically, there is no reason to fall in love with how it resolves. Emotionally, spiritually, and emotively, there is a reason for the heart to beat full-on with the head lodged out of sorts.
This is so typical of what I say when I see a new Dardennes, and that is -- I'll need to see this several times before really digging into the full plate of its intentions. All I can say for now is that it is "perfectly Dardennes"; that it is quiet and contemplative as usual, that it's somewhat a parable Story relayed on film, and it's not really abstract as much as it is mindfully complex.
Ebert pointed out that there's a very rough edit that's not typical of the Dardennes' style, which happens smack dab in the middle of an important moment. I agree with Ebert on this point. The rough edit was hard to take. It was like being thrown into the next room and trying to recover from the attack and stumbling back into the viewing room while the movie keeps playing. But you can get past this hard edit and lay claim with me on the most strange and perfect ending we've encountered in a while. It is yet another masterful ending for the Dardennes.
Again I will say this: It went exactly where it was supposed to go.