Caught between financial need and human obligation, between plans for the future and growing guilt: What’s a girl to do?
The title of Lorna’s Silence, a Belgian film from the Dardenne brothers, implies how its protagonist handles her dilemma — but doesn’t tell the whole the story. The film, which took European awards by storm and arrives on DVD this week, is a spare picture of a woman’s awakening without much ostensible control over the outcome. Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is an Albanian woman in a sham marriage to Claudy (Jérémie Renier), a Belgian junkie who needs some companionship. She and her boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj) have dreams of opening a snack shop, and teamed up with Russian mobsters to broker her citizenship by way of matrimony. Assuming that Claudy will remain addicted, the mobsters plan to kill him after a few months of wedded bliss, and in turn marry Lorna off to a Russian seeking a Belgian passport.
What no one counts on is that Claudy decides to get sober. Wailing wretchedly in fits of withdrawal, he pleads his way toward Lorna’s sense of compassion, however minimal. In the face of his pathetic moaning and general co-dependency (plus, Claudy could be pretty cute if he gained some weight and stopped whining), her resolve to keep things all-business crumbles just enough to let morality shake her capacity for compliance. It’s quickly clear that compliance is largely, the core of Lorna’s dilemma, and it takes on an extra dimension because she was a willing participant in the first place. Unlike a straightforward scenario of female passivity, Lorna’s Silence operates in a state of social realism. As a lower-middle class, immigrant worker, Lorna’s set of decisions doesn’t seem so far-fetched and the consequences are only slightly heightened by the prospect of Claudy’s murder.
The plausibility of Lorna’s dilemma, then, points to another reality not often captured on film: desperation of life on the margins. While Lorna works at a dry cleaning shop in Belgium, her boyfriend is a migrant worker who takes considerable safety risks at locations around continental Europe. They’re joint quest to build financial leverage and start a new life together is evident during their rendez vous while Sokol’s waiting for a ride to his next gig. It’s the first time we see them together, and their mutual passion is jarring in contrast to Lorna’s matrimonial discomfort chez Claudy. As Sokol stuffs a wad of money in her hand, they have a last kiss before his trip and they’re mutual need and shared mission becomes real.
Arguably, money is another character in Lorna’s Silence. From the opening scenes when Lorna and Claudy tersely exchange bills and change for household goods, money and the pursuit therein is the film’s central motif, visibly fueling events to their surprising conclusion. It’s when Lorna begins to question that pursuit that her world closes in, leaving her in silent anguish, but not without a final say.