Monday, September 28, 2009

Lorna's Silence

I had never seen a Dardennes brothers movie before this one, and I’m not sure if that gave me an advantage or disadvantage going into Lorna’s Silence. I’ve said before that I like hard movies, but I maybe should have modified that to say that I like hard movies that are interesting; but it’s not really that this is one isn’t interesting...I think it’s more along the lines that it tries a little bit too hard and makes some stylistic choices that are aimed more squarely at esthetics than they are aimed at the practical concerns of telling the story. I also don’t think it’s an especially hard movie - but I do think that it wants to be, and that Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne had it in the backs of their minds that they were making a hard movie.

We’re dropped into the story already in progress, with Lorna coming back to her apartment and getting ready for bed, fending off an offer from Claudy to play cards. The tension between the two is obvious, although its origins are not. In due course, all becomes clear; but in the early stages you sort of have to tease out for yourself what’s happening and why it’s happening. Jérémie Renier plays Claudy, a Belgian junkie who agreed to marry Albanian Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) for money, so that she could gain Belgian citizenship. Lorna’s part of the quid pro quo is to turn around and marry a Russian so that he can become Belgian.

This is not, however, Utah; so Claudy has to go, first. The Russian brokering the deal, a guy called Fabio, plans to have Claudy offed and to make it look like an overdose. Claudy is trying to quit cold turkey on his own, and junkies are known for their recidivism (paging Scott Weiland) - so Fabio figures it will be no big trick to rig an OD. Lorna, on the other hand, would prefer to go the way of divorce, on the grounds that Claudy beats her. Claudy does not beat her, however - so they have to pretend to have arguments and Claudy has to pretend to hit her, but he’s so strung out and codependent that Lorna can’t manage to get him to hit her. She winds up having to hit herself; and even though this is a little pathetic, there’s a scene where she hits her against the corner of a wall, and it’s incredibly funny - although it’s probably not supposed to be. It just sort of happens, and the humor is in the spontaneity of it, more so than in the actual injury she inflicts upon herself.

Some would argue that a person trying to gain citizenship under false pretenses is not a particularly moral person, and to a certain extent that’s true; but there is a morality to Lorna in spite of that, a sense of attention to right and wrong. It would be easy for her to manipulate Claudy because of his addiciton, but she doesn’t do this; in fact, she makes a reasonable effort to help him get off the drugs, and their relationship evolves to the point that a love scene that would have seemed unlikely early in the picture actually turns out to be entirely organic and extremely poignant when it happens. Unfortunately, this scene - along with most of the natural progression of both the storyline and the character development - is waylaid by a massive temporal cut, around halfway into the picture or so, that is so jarring in terms of continuity that I actually thought the person who had built up the film had gotten the reels mixed up.

That did not turn out to be the case, however. The reels were in the right places, and the story pretty much picked up where it seemed to have left off so abruptly - just a bit further down the line; but it took a hugely melodramatic turn that seemed to shift the tone of all of the characters who had appeared to that point. Lorna, whose morality had been so finely tuned in her relations with Claudy, suddenly became too moral, too eager to tell the truth - to the point that she puts her own life in danger. I don’t want to give anything away, even though I know nobody reading this is going to see this movie (it ain’t in American); and there’s not much more I can tell you about the story without getting into the major plot point on which, a little more than halfway through, the film turns.

The Dardennes seem to be delighted with their minimalism in this film; but the economy of spoken lines combined with their apparenty affinity for hard jump cuts keeps the movie from flowing at a good pace. And the minimalism, wed initially to a kind of gritty realism that spins an effective - if somewhat lethargic - story, jettisons that realism after the monster time cut (and its attendant shifts in plot and tone) and lurches toward the end in the hands of new mistress melodrama. It’s an unwelcome shift, and it undermines a film that initially had some solid promise.

I read a couple of articles about this movie in Film Comment and Cineaste, before I saw the movie, and that may have been a bad thing because I had a pretty good idea of the story going into the picture. The progression of the story and the way the details were filled in during the first act didn’t really get to work on me the way it would have worked on someone who didn’t know anything about the picture ahead of time. I thought Arta Dobroshi did very well playing Lorna, and Jérémie Renier was even better as Claudy, though he wasn’t on screen for very long. But even taking all of that into account, I think the major shift in plot and tone would have turned me off no matter how much I knew or did not know about the movie going into it. That could well change on a second viewing, however. I just don’t know that that would ever happen, especially if I really mean to keep up with catching up on every movie we have ever played.

One week only. (Probably.)

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