Another emotionally intense social drama from the Dardenne Bros, winner of Best Screenplay at Cannes 2008, is released on DVD from New Wave. Noel Megahey reviews.
One element that remains consistent throughout the films of the Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is a social aspect, each of the films reflecting the world and the people that the filmmakers see around them. Often their films are indeed inspired simply by figures they observe on the street, people almost always on the margins of society – homeless, immigrants, junkies and delinquents. That social aspect is heightened further by the manner in which the Dardennes make their films, striving for naturalism in performance, in locations and in the directness of the cinematography and narrative progression, stripping back from anything that looks over-dramatised or over-rehearsed (when in reality, there is much effort, rehearsal and repetition of takes that go into achieving that naturalistic feel).
What is more important than a social realism however is the underlying human considerations that the films are really concerned about. Each of the situations and dilemmas faced by the characters in their films clearly stem from the imagination of the filmmakers, expanding on the observations they make to consider just how these marginal figures, with restricted social network support or no legal status whatsoever, survive the challenges and pressures they undoubted must face on a daily basis. In The Promise the Dardennes consider how it must feel to be an illegal immigrant or even an employer of illegal immigrants. What drives them to suffer deprivation in living and working conditions and what happens when something goes wrong, when there is no legal, employment or social support framework to fall back on? Rosetta looks at how a teenage girl with an alcoholic mother fends for herself on the streets. In The Son, the filmmakers considered one of the most troubling dilemmas, that of a father seeking justice for the murder of his son, while also trying to retain his sense of humanity and compassion. Most recently, in The Child, the Dardennes considered whether poverty could even push a mother and father to sell their own child. In all of their films then, each with their troubling moral questions, the theme that remains uppermost is the human cost that must be paid for the society we live in.
If it appears a little more conventional on the surface in its story of gangsters, criminals and junkies, the subject and treatment of The Silence of Lorna is nonetheless typically that of the Dardenne Brothers, looking at figures in the shadowy grey area on the border of legality and putting a serious moral dilemma their way to see how they cope. Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is an Albanian immigrant in an arranged marriage with Claudy (Jérémie Renier). The purpose of the marriage is obviously so that Lorna can obtain Belgian citizenship, but there’s more to it than that. The marriage has been arranged by a criminal gang specialising in such affairs, and Claudy has been selected because he is a junkie, keen to enter into the arrangement for money, but just as easy to dispose of through a timely overdose when they have a rich Russian who is willing to pay a lot of money to marry a girl with Belgian citizenship. The human dilemma here of course is that of Lorna and whether she will remain silent in the face of such a barbarous scheme.
Of all the extreme situations faced by the protagonists of the films if Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the one faced by Lorna is one of the most troubling and one where the human emotional cost is likely to be most severe. In all the Dardenne’s films, the characters do what they have to do to simply get by – they don’t fit into the society they are a part of and have to find other means to gain a sense of humanity and dignity. It’s not so much that Lorna is an Albanian immigrant that she remains an outsider, or even her dubious status as a Belgian citizen, gained as it is through an arranged marriage – it’s the emotional detachment that is required to maintain this deceit that is most damaging to the young woman. Her junkie “husband” Claudy pleads for help to get over an addiction that is clearly killing him, but is it not in the interests of Lorna, or the men who she is working for, to get emotionally attached to the man or even help him avoid the deadly overdose that he is likely to take of his own accord.
Lorna however is clearly not as cold and hard-hearted as she appears – she has a real boyfriend from home Sokol (Alban Ukaj) who she clearly loves and wants to live with eventually, setting up a business together once her debts are paid to Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), the man organising the arranged marriages. The necessity of treating Claudy brutally then has a deep impact on her, and even more so when she realises that she has to stand by and let him die or be killed in order to achieve the life she wants to live. It’s not a conventional way of viewing criminality as something done for kicks or for illegally gaining vast amounts of money – for Lorna it’s only a way, the only way, she can gain those basic needs, the right to live where she chooses and the right to work. The human cost of the decisions she has to take then is inevitably high.
It goes without saying now that the Dardennes treat this subject with the utmost care and precision, thinking through the positions of each of the characters, considering the issues seriously and finding a way to put them across on the screen without unnecessary dramatisation and exposition. The formalism of their approach to structure, theme, the development of motifs and the rigorous attention that is clearly applied towards characterisation, rehearsal and performance is just as apparent here as in their other films, but only in as far as in how, like Bresson, it achieves an absolute authenticity towards the underlying human sentiments, emotions and behavioural characteristics that arise effortlessly out of the seemingly most mundane and unadorned of situations and performances. This time around, in The Silence of Lorna there are certainly what seem like genre crime drama elements, but the filmmakers never lose sight of the very real consequences that come with being forced to live outside the law, and outside the laws of human nature.
The Silence of Lorna is released in the UK by New Wave Films. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is coded for Region 2. The extra features bear the indicia of Blaq Out, so this is perhaps a port of the elements from the French edition.
While the image itself looks reasonably good, with excellent tone and brightness, strong colouration and adequate shadow detail, the transfer seems to suffer from excessive macroblocking issues. I found these to be extremely distracting when viewed on a computer screen, where flat uniform backgrounds tended to pulsate heavily and occasionally break up into pixilation and blocks of discolouration. Upscaled through a Blu-ray player to 1080p, the macroblocking seemed less of an issue, and the transfer consequently much more acceptable, even if the limitations of the standard definition transfer are more evident in some softness and mild filtering of image. The transfer consequently could look reasonably good on an average set-up, but there are deficiencies that could be problematic on larger, less forgiving display devices.
The film comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Although there is the addition of music on the soundtrack this time, there’s traditionally not a great deal of obvious activity on the speakers in Dardenne Bros films. The ambience, the silences, the sounds that you can hear are however vitally important to the whole feel of the film, and that is captured reasonably well in the mixes provided here.
English subtitles are provided and are optional. The font is white and clearly readable.
The Theatrical Trailer (1:30) captures the intensity of the drama and the emotional content of the film. In the Interview with Arta Dobroshi (14:58), the lead actress talks about her acting background and experience, the audition process for the Dardenne Brothers, the intensity of the role, her preparation and learning French for the part, and the on-set working methods during shooting. The Interview with the Dardenne Bros (36:53) is a little over-analytical and perhaps tells you rather more than you want to know about the filmmakers thoughts and approach to a number of themes and scenes in the film, but it is fascinating and gives some indication of how seriously and meticulously the Dardennes consider every aspect of their craft.
The Silence of Lorna has been seen as some as representing a move by the Dardenne Bros towards a more conventional kind of cinema, but other than slightly relaxing their prohibition on the use of music in their films, it doesn’t deviate greatly from the themes that have preoccupied the filmmakers in the past, the rigour with which they treat their subjects, or their approach towards structure and performance. Perhaps the fact that there is little in those themes or approach that is new could also be taken as a criticism, but the deep emotional power that they are able to draw from the situation of Lorna seems to me to represent the qualities of the filmmakers at their very best, getting to the heart of an intense situation and drawing real meaning from it. The UK DVD is another solid edition from New Wave Films with interesting extra features, although image compression issues prevent an otherwise fine image from looking as good as it should.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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