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Lornaís Silence (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2008)


     Belgiumís foremost cinematic philosophers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne stumble slightly with Lornaís Silence, their latest naturalistic drama. Outright misfires are rare from this talented duo (among their films, Iíd only classify The Son as one), so it probably goes without saying to note that thereís still plenty here to appreciate. For its first half, Lornaís Silence seems worthy of comparison to one of the Dardennesí classic studies in morality.  A radical narrative ellipsis that comes midway, however, jolts the filmís slow steady course to such a degree that neither the story nor the thematic direction is ever fully recovered. In its second half, the movie becomes more desperate and less believable, veering into unsatisfactory territory that largely undermines whatís come before.


     Telling the tale of a young Albanian woman who becomes involved in a green card scam, Lornaís Silence, like The Child, demonstrates how the human body has become a vessel of modern capitalism, without relying on the obvious metaphor of overt prostitution. From the very first moments of the movie, money is always present and of the utmost concern, as it is in most of the Dardennesí films. Whatever complaints you can rally against this movie, you canít say itís detached from reality. Beyond its constant eye on the financial forces that steer us, it has a superb sense of place, even though the Dardennes have, for the first time, made a movie that is not set in their hometown of Seraing. Transitioning slightly, to the more urban backdrop of Liege, the directors create convincing environments out of Lornaís apartment building, the prospective site of her restaurant, and the series of other locations she wanders around as she moves in the direction of a moral epiphany. The Dardennesí superb editorial skills and immaculate camerawork, which is more static than in Rosetta or The Son, ensure that even the most mundane scenes hold the attention.


     They are downright gripping, in fact, until the script (which bizarrely won a prize at this yearís Cannes Film Festival) fails the film. The dissatisfying direction that Lornaís Silence ultimately settles on is frustrating not so much because it fails to provide satisfying emotional closure, but because it squanders a fascinating and thorny dilemma that saw the protagonist perched between self-interest and selfless devotion. This conclusion feels like a definite mistake. When the subject of study in a film goes insane, itís difficult to continue to purport that that film is studying morality any longer, even if said insanity is brought about by intense guilt. Moral reckoning requires consciousness, and past a certain point, Lorna is not really conscious of her actions. One could argue, I suppose, that Lornaís Silence transcends morality at this disjuncture and enters a spiritual realm, but the leap from the humdrum to the transcendent is forced and unconvincing. Itís undeniable that the specificity relayed in every moment of the depiction of Lornaís humdrum existence trumps the vagueness that surrounds her spiritual awakening.



Jeremy Heilman