Tuesday, September 15, 2009

LORNA'S SILENCE

I've often owned up to a feeling of open-mouthed confoundedness after watching a film by the Dardenne Bros. Not over whether I liked/disliked a particular film of theirs, or what to make of my emotional reaction to their many masterpieces (out of only five films), but over how in the hell they do what they do! Yes, this will be a gushing post.

There is a special scene in the Dardenne's Le Fils (The Son) where the father (played by Olivier Gourmet) spends a quiet moment in his son's empty room. Without dialogue or musical influence, a wave of story and character washes over you. It's like magic.

How does this happen? Well, the films of the Dardenne's are so meticulously crafted that each moment is essential to the next and then back on the moments that preceded it. A chain link of images lead to a point that, without fanfare, opens up a box of resolve. "Um, isn't that simply what storytelling through montage and editing is in general?". Yes, but this is more. The Dardenne's aren't just driving a string of events, they are - in small steps - working on our pre-judgments of the protagonist and our personal perceptions of the world around us to unveil universal human truths. Sounds major, right? Well, it is.

The journey that is taken in the Dardenne's latest film is alongside Lorna, an Albanian illegal immigrant working to settle-down in Belgium. Through an arranged marriage, then divorce, then second arranged marriage, Lorna aims to gain residency, citizenship, and a chunk of start-up money for a snack shop she dreams of opening with her boyfriend. Unlike in Rosetta or Le Fils where the camera is seemingly attached at the ankles and necks of the leads, the Dardenne's give Lorna (Arta Dobroshi, looking like a European Ellen Page) a wider frame to work within. The camera still lingers with our protagonist 24/7, but from more an "in the room" perspective than an over-the-shoulder spy cam.

Like an elegantly pitched baseball game or a carefully crafted pop song, great and beautiful things must end well, and Lorna's Silence's quick close was simply one of my favorite moments at the theater this year. With just a splash of music (the only one in the film) and a simple action, the Dardenne's emit a moment that's as spiritual as the ending to Bresson's A Man Escaped. It was all a means to an end. Everything that came before this moment was for this moment. Without this moment, I would not love Lorna's Silence.

So, I don't think I made much headwind in figuring out how the Dardenne's do what they do, or how they did what they did (again) in Lorna's Silence, but when you're in a whirlwind of awe, it's kind of hard to even see straight, y' know?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree more with this entire analysis. The ending was terrible, stretched on for way too long and the last two acts...sloppy.

bill r. said...

I picked up L'Enfant recently at a Blockbuster sale. I shall hopefully watch it soon, but who knows (I probably won't watch it soon, but I want to, which has to count for something).

Fox said...

Bill-

Your wanting to is good enough for me! Plus, I continually like to hear about all of your discount DVD purchases. You're a master at the bargained priced DVD, my man.

Have you seen The Son?

bill r. said...

Don't even get me started on the deals I've found on those Film Noir box sets!

But no, I've never seen any Dardennes brothers film. I've heard nothing but wonderful things, though, if you don't count that anonymous guy up at the top.

Fox said...

Don't be a sexist, Bill. Anonymous could be a gal.

What if his/her name really just is Anonymous, and they've had to live with the burden of that tag their whole life???

Kevin J. Olson said...

I'm really looking forward to this one, Fox. I think The Son is still their masterpiece (and one of the very best films of the 00's), but L'Enfant and Rosetta are must-see films, too. I like what you say about the camera being a tad more static in this film...should be interesting to see how the Dardenne's style has evolved.

I love how you describe that scene in The Son...it always amazes me how tense I am during a Dardenne movie even though there seems to be nothing really "happening". They perfectly play upon our preconceived notions about the types of movies they make, and then they flip those expectations of conventions that viewers have and create beautiful moments of contemplation. They're masters.

Great write-up.

Fox said...

Kevin-

Thanks. And I agree that The Son is their peak (I say that now, but when I see Rosetta again - if it ever gets released on DVD - I may change my mind).

I also agree about the tense feelings. It's a little more appropriate in Lorna's Silence, but the payoff is still different than what I was expecting. But with The Son, that was the first film of theirs that I saw, and, because we've been conditioned to view movies (and media) in a specific way, I was thinking that more sinister things might happen between Olivie and the boy, but it was completely different.

I could watch their movies for days.

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