The newlywed game

Lorna’s silence is in part the artistic restraint of Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; their film about Euroscamming might not displease the Scandinavian dogmatists of Dogme 95. With natural lighting, actual sound, and unobtrusive editing, they tell the compelling contemporary story of a young immigrant who becomes complicit with a gang of international criminals. To appreciate what Lorna’s Silence is, it helps to imagine what it is not – a Hollywood caper in which glamorous grafters orchestrate an ingenious sting. Though the film shimmers, its characters muddle.

Lorna (Dobrashi) is not exactly silent, but her favorite word seems to be “non.” An Albanian living in Liège, she appears uncomfortable using French more than necessary. And her favorite activity seems to be sulking. A hooligan named Fabio (Rongione) helped buy her Belgian citizenship by paying a native to marry her. From the opening sequence, in which she lays a mattress out on the living-room floor for him to sleep on alone, it is clear that Lorna’s marriage to Claudy (Renier) is a legal fiction. Her heart belongs to Sokol (Ukaj), a fellow Albanian, and she cherishes the fond, banal dream of opening a snack bar with him, after he retires from larcenous escapades that take him across borders. Lorna works in a dry-cleaning shop, but she and Sokol plan to finance their legal enterprise through another conjugal fraud. They have found a Russian so eager for European Union citizenship that he will pay handsomely for the hand of a Belgian bride. Lorna will provide that hand, if she can first dispose of Claudy, one way or another. Pathetically dependent on heroin, her nominal husband arouses Lorna’s contempt but also her sympathy. “You need to be a widow,” Fabio instructs Lorna, who has other ideas.

The plot unfolds in unexpected and often unfathomable ways. Lorna proves capable of extraordinary resourcefulness and true nobility of spirit. And she might be deranged. From the beginning to its inconclusive end, Lorna’s Silence lacks any authorial voice to tell us exactly what is going on and what to think. Immersing us in a loveless world of mercenary cons, the film itself earns our trust by creating the illusion of candor. Neither entertainment nor polemic, it is a slice of life in transient western Europe, where the eurodollar is the universal passport, and everyone is an alien, regardless of documents. •

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