The film is a portrait of Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), a young Albanian immigrant in the Belgian town of Liège, whose dream to live independently in Western Europe and run a sandwich shop with her boyfriend has distorted her sense of morality. In rabid pursuit of her goals, Lorna has entered into an arranged marriage with a Belgian junky, Claudy (Jérémie Renier), and even agreed with her mob handlers that they will kill him, by faking a drugs overdose, when he’s no longer useful. For much of the film, Lorna is willing to go along with this sinister arrangement, until a sequence of events light, or reignite, the flame of empathy and humanity inside her.
The Dardennes’ portrait of Lorna is brilliantly nuanced; it’s there to be explored and queried and debated as the film offers subtle, changing lines of communication between us and Lorna. For most of the film we witness the cold language of currency exchange between Lorna and everyone she meets – a language we recognise as a poor substitute for decent human behaviour but which also reveals how lonely and desperate she is. It’s only later, when she seeks intimacy with a strange nurse and a doctor, that she fully reveals this. It’s then that we come to see Lorna’s hard exterior as no less a performance than the cuts and bruises she tries to fake to seek a divorce on false grounds of physical abuse.
Meanwhile, we witness various challenges to her tough-girl act, whether it’s Claudy’s desperation or, later, the possibility that Lorna’s life may be fundamentally changing in a way she never expected. It’s this last development that allows us finally to stop looking at – or looking down on – Lorna and empathise with her. Once she opens the doors to self-examination, we see her more clearly ourselves.
Dobroshi gives a terrific performance, as does Renier, making his third appearance in a film by the Dardennes, who once again show themselves to be masters of turning grim social realities into deep explorations of human behaviour. By the time ‘The Silence of Lorna’ reaches its quiet, unusual, reflective finale, the film feels almost spiritual in its investigation of a lost soul.