Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have become festival darlings with rigorously minimal ethical thrillers.
Their movies are painstakingly crafted, so well-planned in their neorealist details that they appear simple. Their subjects are typically working poor or petty criminals, negotiating their way through a devious world where a moral compass is considered excess baggage. There's not a slack scene or an inefficient shot in their films, though the meaning of the moment may not hit home until the film begins replaying in your memory. And it will, offering emotional experiences that bring you back repeatedly to peer deeper into the work and yourself.
"Lorna's Silence" uses the display, counting and hiding of euro notes as a kind of motif throughout. It's the worship of the bills that initiates the central motion of the story, the strange, ironic redemption of a young Albanian woman (Arta Dobroshi) involved in a dangerous criminal scheme.
Lorna is in a relationship of convenience with Claudy (Jeremie Renier), a tense fellow who shares her apartment. Whether they are friends, siblings, lovers or spouses is a detail the filmmakers don't immediately disclose. What's clear is that Lorna is in charge, briskly making the pair's decisions. Throughout the film we see Lorna treating Claudy like a dog, making him fetch, coercing his obedience and leaving him alone for long stretches.
The plot thickens but not predictably. The film leaps past portions of the story that most movies would dwell on at length. The Dardennes know we're alert enough to interpret the gaps. Lorna sees her connection with Claudy as a means to an end. There are Russians involved, and shady local fixers, and if Lorna follows their orders she will receive a large sum. Tellingly, the point man for their plot is a taxi driver, a man who will take you where you want to go for a price. For these characters, everything is a commodity, and as they broker their deal the story gains dramatic urgency.
The film observes its characters with a cool, distanced compassion. They are as psychologically rich, ambiguous and surprising as you would expect in a novel. Stoical, determined Lorna discovers she is not as cynical as the criminals around her, finding herself unexpectedly pulled into a spiritual and moral odyssey. The pivotal scene, a long uninterrupted shot in which Lorna and Claudy finally find solace in each other's arms, is the most intense emotional experience I've had in a theater this year. The performances are exquisite.
The film opens with Lorna in a cold, metallic bank lobby and ends in a harsh Eden where she might have a new beginning. She's a changed woman, literally. Heaven and transcendence are still a long way off, if they exist at all, but Lorna has recovered her freedom of choice. It's a start. We can fill in the rest.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186