A young Albanian woman living in Belgium has her sights set on opening a snack bar with her boyfriend. In order to do so, she becomes an accomplice in a diabolical plan devised by mobster Fabio. Fabio has set up a false marriage between Lorna and Claudy allowing Lorna to get her Belgian citizenship. However, she is then asked to marry a Russian mafioso who's ready to pay hard cash to also get his hands on those vital Belgian identity papers. Fabio intends to kill Claudy in order to speed up the second marriage. But will Lorna remain silent?
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s bleak tale of sham marriages, heroin addiction and murder polarized critics when it premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2008, as some reviewers hailed it as tense and compelling and others labeled it as an intriguing misfire.
I’m somewhere in the middle: impressed by the artful acting but bemused by a narrative which makes little sense. Even its most ardent admirers found Lorna’s Silence lacks the emotional heft of the Belgian brothers’ previous Cannes Palme d'Or winners Rosetta in 1999 and L'Enfant in 2005, which both delved into the lives of the urban poor.
The plot revolves around an immigration racket which finds Albanian-born Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) in a marriage of convenience with Claudy (Jérémie Renier), a junkie who's trying to quit. Lorna seems a reluctant player in the scam while she works in a drycleaners and saves money to open a snack bar with her shady boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj).
Mobster Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione) arranges for her to marry a Russian for a hefty sum. But when a divorce from Claudy proves difficult after Lorna fakes domestic abuse, Fabio plots to have him die by overdose.
How Lorna's silence implicates her in the ensuing events is absorbing drama, but in the last half hour the narrative veers into unexpected and puzzling directions, which defy credulity. That’s a pity, because the acting is nearly flawless. Kosovo-born actress Dobroshi gives a brave performance as a seemingly hard-boiled woman who gradually develops compassion and a conscience as she realizes she’s become a pawn in a deadly game.
Dardenne regular Renier is terrific as the pathetic, needy Claudy, while Rongione is suitably menacing as the sleazy Fabio. The brothers’ first feature set not in their hometown, Seraing, but in the bigger city of Liège, it’s a story of redemption populated by characters with murky morals. However the heroine's inner thoughts and motivations are so opaque and confusing, at the end we really don't know who she is.