A soul-crushing weight rests upon Lorna (Dobroshi), the Albanian-immigrant heroine of the Dardenne brothers’ stunning proletarian character study. You can see it in her tightly wound expression—lips subtly pursed, eyelids heavy—and in how she walks from place to place with a sleepwalker’s gait. To describe the plot she’s entangled in would ruin much of the film’s surprise, and also be a capitulation to those who have accused the Dardennes of moving away from the less storied structures of masterpieces like La promesse and The Son.
Suffice to say that Lorna’s under the thumb of a mobster (Rongione) and is falsely married to her drug-addict lodger (Renier). From there, the tale twists and turns until it spirals out of control, though the Dardennes maintain their usual rigorous aesthetic and thematic grip. They make it look easy, to the point that the effortlessness and elegance of certain revelations barely register until after the credits roll.
In the moment, it’s easy to wonder if Lorna’s Silence will be much of anything beyond a subdued, seemingly realism-bound pulp fiction. The Dardennes’ most praised films tend to hinge on a climactic epiphany that is noticeably absent here. Additionally, Lorna is left behind at her most vulnerable moment, a point that a good number of stories would either begin at or at least continue on from. Yet what becomes clear in these final moments is that the whole film has been an epiphany; each story beat has brought us closer to Lorna while slowly severing the narrative umbilical cord. It’s an entirely new world that we’re left in—a place where the rules of the movie we’ve just experienced no longer apply.