Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne explore the depths of guilt in their latest film, Lorna’s Silence, an often heart-wrenching story about an Albanian immigrant caught in the middle of a shady citizenship scam. Lorna (Dobroshi) gets a quickie green-card marriage to Claudy (Renier), a heroin addict whom she’s meant to encourage to overdose and die. Barring that, the sleazy cab driver (Rongione) who set the whole thing up will make it happen anyway, paving the way for Lorna, now a Belgian citizen, to marry a Russian businessman and in turn help him become a citizen as well.
The problem is that Lorna begins to feel for Claudy, and desperately searches for an alternate avenue out of her predicament when he commits himself to kicking his heroin habit. In a mainstream movie, this would mean declarations of love and an eventual triumph over adversity, but that’s not how the Dardennes roll; if you’ve seen any of their other films—gritty, unsentimental dramas about the desperation of working-class life—then you know that things will not turn out well for Lorna or Claudy.
Hardcore Dardenne fans have gone a little nuts over this movie’s slight deviations from the brothers’ traditional shooting style, but the steadicam shots and single instance of non-diegetic music do nothing to lessen the naturalistic feel of the story. Silence is far from smoothed over or compromised, and its relentless dedication to tormenting its heroine can get a little tedious. This is perhaps the most plot-heavy of the Dardennes’ films, but the brothers never let things play out in expected ways. Hugely important events happen offscreen, keeping the viewer as on-edge as Lorna herself, and offering powerful emotional impact at unexpected moments.
Still, the downbeat tone sometimes verges into cynicism, and the almost fairy tale-like ending is abrupt and slightly awkward. Dobroshi grounds the movie as Lorna, who manages moments of joy and empathy even as her circumstances grow ever bleaker, and the character’s mounting mental distress ends up feeling plausible and earned. It’s just a little too convenient to be as moving as it ought to be.