Much of this film, like the work of the Dardennes in general, is devoted, with great intensity, to the real-time performance of gestural actions. Crossing a street, getting into and out of a car, pouring out a cup of coffee: these gestures are here routinely invested with gauntlet-like gravity.
Is it because a woman is again the central character that Lorna’s Silence is the Dardennes’ best film since the sublime Rosetta (1999)? Their men are usually notable and uniquely individualised too; but I suspect there is something in the brothers’ investment in the warrior-like actions of a modern ordinary-extraordinary woman that takes them to a higher level in their art.
Be that as it may, Lorna’s Silence is constructed systematically on the enigma of Lorna’s gestures (and her various silences, too, for that matter): at what point does Body determine personal Will, or Will determine Body? As we watch Lorna’s actions unfold, we ask – literally micro-second by micro-second – what is going on.
Take the extraordinary scene in which, trying to save her drug-addicted faux-husband (an almost unrecognisable Jérémie Renier) from himself, Lorna locks them both in their small apartment, and then impulsively throws the door key out the window – a whirlwind of drama, of exactly the kind Giorgio Agamben has analysed in literature, in which the gesture completely rearranges the lines of force in a scene, situation or plot. And then Lorna methodically takes her clothes off, at first inexplicably, until she offers her nude body to the man …
So much in the subsequent course of events spins out from this instantaneous, almost irrational commitment on Lorna’s part to certain movements and gestures – of aggression, protection, love and desire.
The Brisbane International Film Festival (where I first saw this film) was fortunate to enjoy the generous words and presence of the actor who brings Lorna to life on screen: Albanian-born Arta Dobroshi, surely set for a great career after this veritable Bressonian transfiguration courtesy of the Dardennes. Dobroshi told of the very exacting, lengthy rehearsal process employed by the brothers, and the strict attention to the smallest gesture (like where a salt-shaker is put down on the table). No improvisation, as such. Far from feeling that two directors on the set is too many, she joked that, in future, she would like three or more!
And she testified movingly to her need, as an actor, to feel and believe exactly what Lorna feels or believes, not to cultivate a distance or an ambiguity, even when that ambiguity (is Lorna really pregnant?) suffuses the film and its meaning as a whole.
Dobroshi spoke of another of the film’s most striking scenes: when, during an unexpected visitation and interrogation by two policemen (one of them another Dardenne regular, Olivier Gourmet) concerning the husband’s (off-screen) death, she suddenly “cracks” (as Dobroshi described it) and begins crying. Crying through or for what – grief, guilt, the need to confess, the stress of covering up? It is a virtuosic performance spectacle: the character is acting (pretending, lying, putting on face) inside the actor’s own acting … in the midst of that there has to be a real-time crack: the tears must come.
The mystery of how an actor produces such an emotion at such a predetermined point in a scene – the eternal version of what Denis Diderot once pondered (rather disapprovingly) as the paradox of the actor – is not so far from the mystery of all our emotional outbursts. The emotion is both produced and real, intense and enigmatic, all at once. As Agamben mused: We are always more and less than ourselves.
© Adrian Martin August 2008