REVIEW: Lorna’s Silence

10 08 2015

Lorna's SilenceFor fans of the Dardennes (a group that probably exists only at the very fringes of cinephile circles), “Lorna’s Silence” functions as an interesting bridge between two stages of the brothers’ career.  Their first few movies, which include two Palme D’Or winners in “Rosetta” and “L’Enfant,” feature hardscrabble protagonists forced to learn tough lessons in an uncaring society.  Their latest two films, “The Kid with a Bike” and “Two Days, One Night,” allow some pyrrhic victories for characters willing to fight tooth and nail for them.

“Lorna’s Silence” falls somewhere in between these dueling worldviews, both evincing the past and presaging the future.  Perhaps it feels somewhat wishy-washy as a result, but Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne never hit a false note in their grim portrayal of what happens to Lorna, a fundamentally good-natured woman, when she makes her own life harder by having compassion.

In order to gain Belgian citizenship so she can start a business with her boyfriend, the Albanian emigre Lorna allows herself to become a pawn in a mafia game.  She endures a sham marriage to a junkie to avoid the messiness of divorce proceedings; local boss Fabio (Fabrize Rongione) thinks Lorna can kill off her husband Claudy (Jérémie Renier) by staging an overdose.  Lorna, however, finds herself torn between her personal desires to realize her dreams and the desire to help someone clearly struggling.  The push and pull, as well as how she attempts to create some kind of balance between the two opposing forces, proves brutally compelling to watch unfold.

The film may come across as slight in comparison to the brothers’ other work, but the impact of “Lorna’s Silence” is still hard to shrug off.  If this is the toll of trying to remain upright in a world that rewards self-service, then why would anyone ever want to do the charitable thing?  The Dardennes confront some of the tough dilemmas that face the working-class, daring us to feel the pain with their beleaguered, woebegone protagonists.  B+ / 3stars

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REVIEW: Two Days, One Night

1 10 2014

Two Days One NightTelluride Film Festival

In 1999, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne arrived on the world stage of cinema in a big way with “Rosetta,” a film that won them the Palme d’Or at Cannes as well as global renown.  That story, which they both wrote and directed, followed its eponymous 17-year-old protagonist as she battles for self-survival in an unfeeling Belgian capitalist system.  In spite of all the setbacks she faces, however, Rosetta always summons the strength from within to get back on her feet and scrounge around again for a job.

Two Days, One Night” arrives from the brothers 15 years later, who once again take an out-of-work female as their subject.  Marion Cotillard stars in the film as Sandra, a struggling factory worker who learns she has one weekend to convince 16 coworkers to relinquish a bonus in order for her to stay on the company’s payroll.  Such a daunting task would seemingly shock anyone out of lethargy and into tenacious survival mode.

Yet when the Dardennes first introduce Sandra, she lies motionless on her side and is content to simply let an important phone call ring until it gets forwarded to voicemail.  Throughout the film, Sandra appears to believe that going to fight for her job is a futile waste of her time and energy.  Most of the push to continue the journey, in fact, comes from her rather saintly husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione).

Much of Sandra’s lack of confidence is explainable by her personal struggles with depression (that might be a generalized description of the specific condition afflicting her, which seemed to resemble bipolar disorder).  To focus solely on the personal, however, diminishes a whole world of social commentary in “Two Days, One Night.”  This is the second time that the Dardennes have placed the imminent possibility of joblessness in front of their central character, and the response that follows has shifted from powerful pugnacity to alarming apathy.

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