Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Silence of Lorna

The Silence of Lorna.

I don't get to see many moving coloured pictures. But I was in this one, right from the start. It looks so familiar, this Belgian city, its traffic, its buses, its unremarkable streets. I was there, riding on the buses, walking in the streets, this film has a curious way of reflecting your own life. Well, not all of it clearly, but the more 'ordinary' aspects of it. Emotionally I was there as well, twisting little pieces of gum wrapper and dropping it on C's arm when I clutched it during particularly tense scenes.

The theme is of the consequences of our actions, and raises the question of 'does the end justify the means?' It depicts the gradual entrapment of Lorna (an Albanian national) in a downward spiral of consequences, which began with an action that, if not entirely innocent - a false marriage, in order to obtain Belgian citizenship - is only on the fringe of illegality. She did this with the best of intentions and motives - she loves Sokol, a fellow Albanian and they plan to set up a business together, to run a snack bar. With Belgian nationality, she can get a bank loan. Once this is set up she envisions that they will work hard, pay back the bank loan, make a legitimate and decent living.

But once they've accepted the help of Fabio, who has arranged this marriage - her recovering junkie husband, Claudy was paid cash for his part - we see that Fabio has bigger goals and wants to make more money and he needs Lorna for this. Perhaps she did not question where the original money to pay Claudy came from. But we watch her gradual realization that far from gaining freedom, she's become ensnared in Fabio's plans. He arranges a second marriage for her, with a client who will pay well (and she will benefit financially too). He shows that he considers Claudy to be expendable.

She tries to present an alternative scenario – to get a divorce, rather than have Claudy die of a 'drug overdose', and agrees to accept less money for this. But a divorce will take longer; much more convenient for Lorna to be a widow. Fabio is reluctant, it will harm his deal, he doesn't want to put off a potential client, and the wads of cash it will bring him. You also sense he does not like to see his plan being changed because he has to be the one in control.

It seems clear that from the start, she was fairly innocent as to how deeply she was implicated, relying on positive feelings of love for and trust in, Sokol. How much the latter was aware of possible implications, for both of them, is less clear.

The film is brilliantly depicted, in seeming simple journeys to work, to the bank, all so seeming ordinary, apart from Claudy's wrestling with his withdrawals and his addiction, and Lorna's encounters with Fabio although even these, at the beginning, do not seem to impinge unduly on her life. There is an underlying tension though, right from the beginning, as you watch the problematical scenario of her life. For she is living with someone who she basically wants nothing to do with, but as a feeling human being, she accepts a minimum of exchange and contact and reluctantly does small errands for him. He is going through the bleakness of withdrawals, physically and emotionally deeply perturbed, erratic, sometimes pathetically dependent, at other times, infuriating.

There is ambiguity about feelings, as Lorna's gradually change - and motives - and many uncertainties of outcomes, all of which give the film tremendous strength, through its unpredictability. Its subtlety is a marvel because it could so easily in others' hands, I imagine, have degenerated into clichés and brutality, with hard-edged lines between bad guys and good guys. There is plenty of time to reflect on – what would I do in that situation?

Money always lurks in the background; sometimes it is glimpsed, and sometimes clearly visible; but it is not always something that evokes the worst in people. In Claudy's hands – where it does not remain for long as he prefers to entrust it to Lorna – it's seen as something to be measured and dealt with, even if can come to represent his own inability to control his dependency. It's seen too, in Claudy's brother's gesture, as representing something contemptible. The whole film could in fact be seen as a variety of attitudes towards money and what it represents, and what it evokes in different people – a highly charged emotional field, this – for Lorna it is future happiness, prosperity, freedom in a positive way – the freedom to work and live here, the freedom to be with the man she loves and build a life together, and later – something to invest for her child. For Claudy it has the ability to evoke his addictive dependency; he cannot trust himself with it and so he removes the temptation from him. For Fabio it seems to be an end in itself, the main goal, and we wonder – or I did - if he would allow Lorna's human feelings to intervene and come between him and an awful lot of it. Or even delay its arrival in his hands. And I won't give away any more of the story. Go and see it. It had me thinking about it for a long time afterwards.

I don't have any photos of Belgium. But here's one of the mountains of Albania, on the road from Tirana to Elbasan.