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Troubled Grace:
The Dardenne Brothers’ Lorna’s Silence

Lorna’s cool indifference predictably transforms into concern as Claudy breaks his pattern of returning to the needle by showing a true concerted effort to quit heroin once and for all. Lorna attempts to dissuade Fabio from killing Claudy when the latter finally shows signs of getting his life together (or perhaps she finally realizes the evil of cruel murder in and of itself), and goes as far as faking spousal abuse to receive a quickie divorce. Claudy won’t cooperate while he’s recovering from withdrawal in the hospital, and in one of the Dardennes’ moments of too-real realism — how did they fake this so convincingly? — Lorna bashes her head against a wall to give herself the appearance of having been beaten. Once the divorce goes through it looks like Lorna has saved Claudy. The turning point in their relationship occurs when Lorna locks herself and Claudy, fiending and literally fighting for a fix, into the apartment. Feeling closer to him than ever, she strips and makes love to him, both to satisfy his craving body and to share her love.

I’m not sure if this scene hits the right note — though the androgynous Dobroshi and the fragile Renier are up to the challenge of its emotional turbulence, the charged consummation arrives a beat too soon. But perhaps it was meant to, because what follows offers a far greater jolt. After that intense night Claudy says goodbye to Lorna as she goes off to her job, promising to come around to see her during the day as part of his plan to set small goals for himself to keep his mind off dope. The next scene is a presumably innocent one of Lorna going through Claudy’s dirty, ratty clothes; we then see her in a store’s menswear section scouting some new threads for him. But in the subsequent shot we realize what’s really been going on: Claudy is dead, and she’s purchased clothes and brought them to the morgue for him to be laid out in a coffin.

Back in August 2008 I saw Lorna’s Silence for the first time — in between that viewing and a more recent one I had completely forgotten the manner in which Claudy’s death is divulged and found myself even more devastated by it the second time around. The reason for this points to the multiple levels on which the Dardennes are working: The first time I watched Lorna’s Silence I was forced to reorient myself to the shattering new information, but the second time, knowing Claudy’s death was imminent but not remembering how it would be presented, I was floored by its presentation, by its combination of immediate and retroactive tragedy. That the Dardennes go beyond simply diagramming the suffering-redemption-suffering-redemption chord changes of their scenarios should be obvious by now, but this elliptical sequence nails it home with the most puissant force of the careers.


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