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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]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.