The Dardenne brothers make movies in a way that allows them to construct the most devilishly complicated ethical questions, while having those issues arise naturally out of powerhouse stories.
Adding to the power is that movies such as “Rosetta” and “La Promesse” are shot in a documentary style, a sometimes over-used method that fits their gritty subjects.
The new one for the Belgian filmmakers is “Lorna’s Silence,” which won the screenplay award at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. They haven’t lightened their approach.
Lorna, played by Arta Dobroshi, is a young Albanian woman caught in the middle of a lousy deal. She has married a junkie (Jeremie Renier) in order to gain Belgian citizenship. He has agreed to the deal in exchange for money for his habit.
This next bit is complicated: Lorna herself is getting paid, by a Russian criminal, so that he can in turn marry her and gain Belgian citizenship for himself. There’s only one thing standing in the way of this heartless arrangement: the clueless junkie.
The plan is for the bad guys to give the junkie a fatal overdose, thus clearing the way for the second marriage (they can’t wait for a quickie divorce, which might arouse the curiosity of the authorities).
It should be easy for Lorna to go along with this — she doesn’t like her sham husband much, anyway. But conscience is a funny thing, even in dismal circumstances.
Lorna’s dilemma is mercilessly explored, and she’s no shining heroine in all this. The movie’s really about someone trying to grope her way back to humanity after making a catastrophic mistake in judgment.
Beyond the individual story, there’s a portrait (as in all the films by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne) of a world where flawed people fight against the tide of greed and self-interest around them. In “Lorna’s Silence,” there’s always a monetary transaction happening — there must be a dozen scenes of cash being exchanged — a sad vision of how life gets reduced.
Which makes the final segment, in a forest, all the stronger: It’s like a retreat into the world of fables. But there’s no escape from past actions, even if you escape the bad guys. Not a happy situation, but a thought-provoking conclusion.