Cannes 08: The Dardennes on “The Silence of Lorna”

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05222008_dardennes1.jpgBy Erica Abeel

Ever since “The Promise” in 1996, the prospect of a new film from Belgian siblings Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne has been cause for rejoicing. Impeccably constructed, uncompromising and emotionally searing, the Dardenne brothers’ films give voice to a population often despised or ignored: illegal aliens, slumlords, corrupt officials and smalltime criminals. To their characters the brothers bring a compassionate view born of the understanding this underclass has, in part, been created by society’s higher-ups. And though the pair might deny it, their films also suggest an ingrained Christian vision through insisting on the transformative possibility of the most debased being.

“The Silence of Lorna,” their latest portrait, which premiered in Cannes, has failed to elicit the rapturous response received by some of the earlier work, such as the 2005 Palme d’Or winner “The Child.” Yet despite an exposition that some found lengthy, the Dardennes bring great resonance to this fable of a young Albanian immigrant caught in a terrible dilemma who struggles to redeem herself. As in “The Promise,” the film focuses on the machinations forced on illegals hoping to grab a morsel of the world’s wealth — in this case through fake marriages for citizenship. This time the brothers have placed their camera in the more gentrified city of Liège, rather than their grimy industrial hometown of Seraing. Lorna has become a Belgian citizen through her sham marriage to junkie Claudy (Dardenne regular Jérémie Renier). A local mobster who engineered the union is planning to kill Claudy with a staged overdose so Lorna can remarry a Russian mafioso. But when Claudy threatens to start using drugs again, the two have passionate sex and form a sudden bond.

I got chance to speak to Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne in the Unifrance pavilion following the premiere of their film Happily for journos, Luc is forthcoming and responsive; Jean-Pierre is famously less so, often parrying questions that he seems to regard as, well, unanswerable.

Where do your characters originate? Did Lorna have a source in real life?

Someone among our acquaintances told us the story of a real-life Lorna, who made a false marriage — but we took her story in a different direction.

05222008_dardennes2.jpgHow do you apportion the directing of your films?

We discuss the script. We both do the casting. On the set we work solely with the actors for a long time, without any crew. Then the crew and D.P. come on board, and one of us goes to the monitor. Once we take a shot, we discuss it in front of the monitor and evaluate it. Then we discuss it with the D.P. We both edit. It’s really not more complicated than if there were only one person.

Do you rehearse a lot before shooting?

Yes, we do — so we can be at our most free when we shoot. We’re free when we’re very familiar with the work. In fact, the rehearsals are the best period of the whole business — le plus beau moment. We don’t discuss the psychology of the characters. It’s something more instinctual. Rehearsals are like soccer camp. Then when we shoot, it’s the championship.

The first shot of the film is bills being handed over at the bank. Could you talk a bit about the omnipresence of money in your films?

Money rules the relationships between us, and it changes things. Money gives you the means to change your life — and permits the characters to alter their lives. In other films money is treated as something shameful. For us it’s just there. Money can also permit moral behavior. When Lorna opens a bank account to deposit money for Claudy’s child — her unborn child — it’s beautiful money.

I found something in Lorna’s transformation rather mysterious. Through much of the exposition she seems irritated by strung-out Claudy and wants only to blow him off. What triggers the change in her feelings for him?

Not one thing alone. When she starts to help Claudy — for instance helps him get up from the floor — she starts to change as a human being. She undresses to keep him from leaving [in pursuit of drugs]; she makes an extreme gesture… and also feels desire. Claudy shows her he can stop and she admires that, and she feels guilt that they plan to kill him.

But bottom line, her gesture toward him is mysterious and can’t be explained — in fact, it mystifies her, too. It’s as mysterious to her as it is to us.

05222008_dardennes3.jpgWas the whole script planned? Or were there changes as you went along?

We tend to augment the physical aspects, add gestures when we shoot and reduce dialogue. And the actors bring something of themselves to it, the shoot is organic, and changes with the circumstances. Even so, the film you see is very close to the script.

There’s an enigma at the heart of this film: is Lorna’s baby real or imaginary? Of course the doctors say there’s no child. Yet the question remains…

We first had the idea for the imaginary pregnancy when we decided not to show Claudy’s corpse. This absence for Lorna is filled by the baby, though the baby is an absence, too. You know, if you want to believe she’s pregnant, you can. An interesting thing: even with an added scene in which a doctor shows her she’s not pregnant, audiences persist in believing she is. I think it’s because the viewer wants her to redeem herself and protect a new life. She was careless with Claudy’s life, but she’ll be careful with the life of the baby, which represents the future and hope.

[Photo: Arta Dobroshi as Lorna; Jérémie Renier and Dobroshi; the brothers Dardenne – “The Silence of Lorna,” Gemini Film GmbH & Co. KG, 2008]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.