You wonder if the Dardenne brothers’ no-bullshit mode of indie filmmaking will ever become over-familiar or even clichéd — it’s so simple that you can imagine scores of filmmakers using it (as of now, only a few have bothered). Honestly, though, the least simple part of it may be the most difficult: getting funding for films that don’t use soundtrack music cues or establishing shots or tidy feel-good plot-arcs.
Luc and Jean-Pierre D. like to drip their narrative information at a rate that leans us forward in our seats — they throw us into the deep end, and in time, we learn to swim. In their new film “Lorna’s Silence,” we’re deep in before we come to understand that the plain, boyish Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), who’s just become a naturalized Belgian, was able to do so because she is in fact married to Claudy (Jérémie Renier), the clingy, emaciated junkie that shares her apartment. We don’t know where she’s from, or who else she knows — until she meets with a cab driver she has no apparent feeling for, and he mentions that if things don’t go according to plan, they could just OD the addict to get him out of the way. Lorna doesn’t blink. Out of the way of what?
The Dardennes are unforgiving, holding out in such ultra-realistic fashion (nobody says anything for our sake, exposition-wise) that watching their films is sometimes like watching a car accident in slow motion. “Lorna” turns out, surprisingly, to be more complicated and repressed than most, centering on Dobroshi’s compromised and actually mildly dislikable heroine, who hides her emotional range so well we never know what she’s thinking. It turns out that Lorna is being set up, in turn, to be the citizenship-free-pass for a mysterious Russian, so she needs a divorce or a widowhood, just as Claudy decides to make a serious go at getting clean.
The movie begins, like a tight noir, being about money, but then its singular focus, like Lorna’s, gets smudged and shadowed by life and human imperfection. Even when you’re expecting the Dardennes to withhold information from you, and then deliver it out of the corner of your eye, it can still be shocking, making us rerun the film in our heads, and nurse the wounds of our delayed responses.
The real story is actually happening inside Lorna’s head, and we get no clues as to what that might be until the unraveling begins, when the heroine’s fastidiously blank interface with the world begins to crumble. This might be a masterpiece of casting — at first Dobroshi is frustratingly inexpressive and tough to know, and she, with the film, never tries to seduce us.
But as Lorna’s money-driven amorality gives way to love and empathy, in ways you never predict, the plot sorta vanishes, and she becomes a paradigmatic lost Euro girl of the millennium, wandering literally in the wilderness. Masterful though they are, the Dardennes’ movies always run the risk of summing up into morality tales, but “Lorna’s Silence,” like “Rosetta,” becomes something more mysterious, a tragedy blooming into metaphor.