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Belgian Brothers Offer Bizarre Immigration Case Study

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The Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, double Cannes Palme d’Or winners (“Rosetta,” “L’Enfant”), once again bring an intensely real depiction of an individual’s life to the screen. The writer-directors’ latest effort, “Lorna’s Silence” (Best Screenplay at Cannes 2009), shares the same typically streamlined visual style characteristic of the Dardenne brothers. The focus stays mostly on the protagonist, though “Lorna’s Silence” differs a bit in that more scenes than usual don’t include the main character at all — a method used this time to help effectively set up the environment in which Lorna lives.

Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is a mostly quiet, serious-seeming, attractive 30-ish Albanian immigrant who works in a dry cleaning shop in the industrial city of Liège in Belgium. At home, we see her living with Claudy (Jérémie Renier) — a nervous, timid Belgian man whom she angrily bosses around at times. At night, they take a mattress out of the bedroom for him to sleep in the living room while she sleeps in the bedroom. The situation seems a bit peculiar. Is he an estranged husband? A roommate?

It turns out that the Belgian is a junkie who married Lorna for money so she could get her Belgian citizenship. To satisfy immigration officers who might make random visits, they have to appear to be living together as a properly wedded couple (she has a real boyfriend who’s also from Albania). But now that Lorna has citizenship, Albanian mobster Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione) plans to make more money by marrying her off to a Russian who wants Belgian citizenship. But first they have to get rid of the junkie, for whom Lorna has been developing feelings.

“Lorna’s Silence” is gripping and engrossing, with never a dull moment when the viewer’s attention might wane. The details of Lorna’s life are rich and engrossing. And the verisimilitude is enhanced by solid, low-key acting from each of the principals, who all truly look the parts they are playing.

Lorna’s Silence (Le Silence de Lorna) (French and Albanian with subtitles; 105 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema 4.5 out of 5 stars

Deliciously ‘Cold Souls’ “Cold Souls,” which premiered during the New Directors/New Films festival hosted by New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, certainly lives up to the “new” label. The deliciously funny black comedy offers a distinctive vision by moving between a world of reality and a world of fantasy, with an occasional vaguely futuristic overtone. At first glance, the cultured New York City environment inhabited by its protagonist, an overly neurotic actor named Paul Giamatti (well played in over-the-top fashion by actor Paul Giamatti), doesn’t necessarily seem that different from the world depicted in many movies set in New York, especially those by Woody Allen.

Giamatti is currently starring in a production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” Getting into character, he’s suffering such great anguish that it’s too much to take — preventing him from properly playing his role or even effectively functioning in life. He reads an article in the New Yorker about a company that can take away his tormented soul, putting it into cold storage. Desperate for relief, Giamatti visits the center run by the chill snake-oil salesman Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn). After undergoing the procedure, Giamatti is no longer blocked from acting. But now he’s awful at it — playing a very happy Vanya! His wife (Emily Watson), friends and colleagues are all mystified at the new Paul Giamatti.

Eventually, he decides that things aren’t quite working out. He goes back to reclaim his old soul, but it’s mysteriously missing. He eventually figures out that his soul is in Russia, swiped for a mobster’s mistress who wanted to try out the soul of a famous actor. Giamatti convinces the soul mule Nina (Dina Korzun), who carries a black market soul within her while crossing borders, to lead him to Russia in a search for himself in more ways than one.

Cold Souls (English; 101 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema 4 out of 5 stars

‘Still Walking’ Same Line At the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, acclaimed Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda presented his new film, “Still Walking.” The story covers 24 hours in the life of a dysfunctional extended family during their annual gathering to honor the accidental death of the oldest son more than a decade ago. Each year, the younger son and daughter, along with their respective families, return to their parents’ home to mark the occasion.

The insatiable longing for unattainable parental approval continues despite the children’s independence. Long-standing disappointments, resentments and jealousies still linger. The patriarch, a retired doctor, will never approve of his surviving son’s decision to become an art restorer instead of following in the medical footsteps of his father and his deceased brother. Past habits and actions repeat themselves, even in the next generation (the grandchildren). And in some cases, the people who butt heads most often actually have a very deep love for one another. In contrast, some people who get along splendidly do so only at a superficial level.

The story is told through depictions of scenes in everyday life, like taking a bath, eating a meal, or kids playing. Obvious comparisons can be made to Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” and recent celebrated French films about dysfunctional families like “A Christmas Tale” and “The Secret of the Grain.” Unfortunately, while I loved these three films, I just never really got into “Still Walking.”

The characters didn’t quite hold my interest. They just seemed like regular people who could be in any family. Perhaps because “Still Walking” lacks the melodrama of “A Christmas Tale” and “The Secret of the Grain,” it also felt like nothing much was going on. Don’t get me wrong. “Still Walking” isn’t a bad movie, but it just doesn’t have the same magic for me as Kore-eda’s past fantastic films such as “Nobody Knows” and “After Life.”

Still Walking (Aruitemo Aruitemo) (Japanese with subtitles; 114 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., Sept. 4 3 out of 5 stars

Repertory Notes

Please see International FilmClips for detailed listings available at press time.

American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theatre Check out AFI’s two major series in September: “Cinema & The Spanish Civil War” (Sept. 4-22) and the always popular AFI Latin American Film Festival (Sept. 23-Oct. 12), with selections by cultural staff from Latin embassies in D.C. (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver

Freer Gallery of Art The US-ASEAN Film Festival 2009 (Sept. 13-27) screens four films from member countries in Southeast Asia. (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp

National Gallery of Art “Alain Resnais: The Eloquence of Memory” shows the French auteur’s work from Sept. 5 to 20. “A creature is a memory that acts,” research scientist Henri Laborit once said about what the National Gallery calls the “abiding artistic obsession of Alain Resnais, one of Europe’s most thoughtful and thought-provoking filmmakers.” (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film

Goethe-Institut “Ulrike Ottinger in Focus” (Sept. 14-Aug. 4) profiles the versatile writer-director, who is also a painter and accomplished photographer, which is perhaps why her cutting-edge, visually stunning cinematography in films such as “Madame X” have earned such acclaim. (202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/ins/us/was/kue/flm/enindex.htm

About the Author

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

Last Edited on July 7, 2014