Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are known for their intensely personal films set in Seraing, the working class town where they grew up. From La Promesse in 1994 to L’Enfant in 2005, the Dardennes used hand-held camera techniques to get so close to their laboring protagonists that the viewer can practically feel the physical rigors these workers endure. The films dramatize their characters’ moral dilemmas on the physical plane but also transcend to the spiritual as they reveal their subjects' inner lives.
With Lorna’s Silence, the Dardenne Brothers have deliberately taken a step back, choosing to shoot in 35mm for the first time, using a less mobile camera that inevitably creates more objective distance between the viewer and their newest heroine. The results are no less emotionally gratifying or personal than in their previous films, but Lorna's Silence is mysterious and mystifying in an entirely new way. The Dardennes seem to have adjusted their aesthetic to fit the complexities of the film's plot.
In order to fulfill her dream of opening a snack bar with her boyfriend, Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), an immigrant from Albania, arranges a marriage with a junkie named Claudy (Jérémie Renier) and plans to have him killed once she secures Belgian citizenship. The middleman, a Belgian who set the whole scheme up, has a tight grip on Lorna, not only ensuring that she adheres to her agreement to later marry a Russian who also seeks citizenship, but also subjecting her to increased scrutiny when it appears she truly cares for Claudy.
The intricate plan forces Lorna to re-examine her morals as she helps Claudy kick heroin and, in the process, rediscovers her humanity. The Dardennes ensure that the action takes place in an ethical gray zone: We feel compassion for Lorna in the struggle over her own future, which requires her to weigh a man's life against her own happiness. And then, in a shocking twist at the halfway point, the filmmakers force us to re-examine everything we’ve seen so far.
As per usual for the Dardennes, Lorna’s Silence hits the ground running, in what feels like the middle of a scene, exploiting the suspense and anxiety that a complete lack of context create. Physical spaces blend together through deceptively complex editing, and Lorna’s (Arta Dobroshi) interactions with others are at first difficult to comprehend. But the Dardenne brothers eventually fill in the gaps, in typical Bressonian fashion, often skipping crucial events and conversations, thus leaving it to the viewer to draw the line from point A to point B.
The greatness of Lorna’s Silence lies not in its elaborate narrative of interlocking parts, but in the way it depicts Lorna deflecting and combating the adversity she faces. The film is full of transactions and interactions that take place solely for personal gain. As Lorna admirably attempts to extract herself from the deception and corruption she has helped to create, we are witness to a moral and spiritual awakening that, regardless of its outcome, is both remarkably potent and teeming with contradictions. Lorna is, after all, no saint, and the Dardennes resist making her a martyr. But the resilience and shrewdness she exhibits in navigating some exceptionally murky moral waters provide their own sort of redemption.