Belgian Distance


Dardenne Brothers Step Back to Keep’Lorna’s Silence’ Real

Celebrated Belgian writer-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, a team of brothers, have won two prestigious Palme d’Or awards at the Cannes Film Festival for “Rosetta” and “L’Enfant.” They met with The Washington Diplomat in Manhattan to discuss their most recent film, “Lorna’s Silence,” which won Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2009.

The Dardennes started their filmmaking career in the 1980s, making documentaries about struggling Belgian working-class folk, using extensive interviews. “We trusted the spoken word to speak of history or past things that had happened, because the people we had filmed were witnesses of past events,” they’ve said.

The brothers’ once proud and thriving industrial hometown of Liège had experienced a sad collapse and decline — “a little like Detroit,” Luc explained. “That was the situation that was the beginning of our reflection on cinema and of our work. Where there’s no more solidarity and people living and doing things on their own, for no reason, with no motivation, [there is] unemployment, empty houses, broken families, people alone, lots of lonely people, drugs.”

In “Lorna’s Silence,” the title character is an Albanian immigrant working as a dry cleaner in Liège. As the story progresses, the viewer gradually learns that Lorna paid a Belgian junkie to marry her so that she could get Belgian citizenship. After that, an Albanian mobster has schemed another fake marriage between her and a Russian who would obtain his own Belgian citizenship. She then plans to use her money from the deal to open a café with her real boyfriend, also of Albanian descent. But first, she must escape her marriage with the junkie without alerting the suspicions of the Belgian immigration officers.

“We wanted the viewer to see an intriguing woman, intriguing in two senses,” Luc said of the title character, “because we’re wondering what she thinks, what’s going on, but also because she has several strategies she develops. The best way for that to come across is to keep our distance and just watch.”

While that paradigm has remained constant, the physical nature — centered on a character’s bodily movements — of the brothers’ narrative films departs from the more verbal filmmaking manner of their documentaries. “Lorna’s Silence” represents a further evolution from their cinema verité approach by adopting more mainstream narrative techniques.

The Dardennes believe that “a fixed style is like death,” Jean-Pierre added. “Eduardo De Filippo, an Italian writer and theater director, said, ‘If you’re looking for the style, you find the death. If you look for life, you find style.’ It’s good, Italian people, eh?”

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.