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Lorna's Silence

(2009) ** 1/2 R
105 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Directors: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Cast: Arta Dobroshi, Jeremie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione, Morgan Marinne, Anton Yakovlev.

/content/films/3547/1.jpgThe Dardenne Brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have been known to make grown-up movies about overgrown children growing up (The Child). The writer-directors also enjoy parables of sinners stumbling into redemption (The Son). Beloved by critics, the Dardenne brothers have seemed infallible, but their signature style begins to show strain in Lorna’s Silence.

In the filmmakers’ native Belgium, an Albanian émigré named Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is at the center of a green-card scam that’s meant to end in the murder of her unwanted husband Claudy Moreau (Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier), a frighteningly thin, chain-smoking drug addict who wants her help in getting clean. Lorna finds her needy husband of convenience repulsive, and initially is as unsympathetic to him as she is to us, refusing to help Claudy kick. (She does reluctantly play double solitaire with him, though: a symbol of their disconnected union.)

Lorna has humble dreams, if not humble ends: her reward for murder will be the opportunity to open her own snack bar. But when push comes to shove, Lorna hesitates: must this wretched creature be killed? Her boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj) has no such doubt, insisting, “He’s just a junkie.” But once the cold Lorna feels a warm pang of guilt, there’s no turning back. She gets religion, falls for her husband, and begins working against her co-conspirators. The story becomes, then, a bit like a film noir told from the point of view of an irresolute femme fatale.

If you can accept this whiplash character “development,” Lorna’s Silence may work for you as the searing, genre-tinged drama it sets out to be. The Dardennes’ style is so precisely off-hand and withholding that it has begun to gravitate toward self-parody; the way they make you catch up with the plot is involving until the scene where you’ll swear they lost a reel, a move to withhold the thrills from what threatens to become a thriller. Despite this perverse tactic, the filmmakers are masters of the cinematic whirlpool--the turmoil and that sinking feeling --adeptly tugging us down with Lorna as she loses her grip.

In content, Lorna’s Silence retreads familiar Dardenne territory: a character defined by dark thoughts, social desperation, and/or severe moral compromise desperately grabs for redemption, though it may be too late. At times, the new film connects as another sad song of the heart’s refusal to behave, and the performances of Dobroshi and Renier are saving graces, but this time the poker-faced reaches toward religious parable just come across as empty posturing.

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