There is more plot and narrative in Lorna's Silence than we normally get from Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne - more story and characters to keep track of than there were in Rosetta, The Child, The Son or The Promise. But the quiet tension and growing desperation of its heroine, Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), will feel familiar to fans of the brothers' films.
An Albanian immigrant living in Belgium, Lorna is in the process of attaining her citizenship status after marrying a drug addict, Claudy (Jeremie Renier), in a pre-planned arrangement. Lorna and Claudy are like roommates who don't necessarily like each other: When she fetches him something from the grocery store on her way home from her job at a dry cleaner, he has to pay her for it on the spot.
Except that Claudy has gotten serious about kicking his heroin habit, and he increasingly leans on the reluctant and exasperated Lorna for help. Gradually, we discover that Lorna plans to open a snack bar with her real lover, Sokol (Alban Ukaj), and she has agreed to a complicated scheme with a local hustler (Fabrizio Rongione) to remarry a Russian mobster, a plan that will get her the cash to kick-start her dream business, and her life along with it.
But in time-honored Dardennes tradition, fate and conscience have a way of messing with best-laid plans. Along with its more complex structure, Lorna's Silence also features several other departures for the Dardennes. Their near-documentary realism (which has been infinitely mimicked by other filmmakers but rarely with the same skill) is tempered by writerly touches, including a major plot shift that takes place off-screen and an unannounced jump forward in time, that jolt you out of the movie just as it reaches its most engrossing, heart-rending point.
The mid-film story turn is necessary for the second half of Lorna's Silence to play out as the Dardennes intend, but it's a miscalculation - the first time in their careers when the brothers don't recognize the engine that is really driving their picture. And the movie's gradual drift, in its closing scenes, into territory tentatively bordering on surrealism simply doesn't gel with what has preceded.
Still, even a not-entirely-satisfying work from the Dardennes offers plenty of pleasures, including their eloquent, often silent expression of empathy for their protagonists (this may be the first movie I've seen in which someone has to go to a morgue to identify the body of a loved one and the camera doesn't go in with them, opting to give them space and privacy).
Lorna's Silence also contains a long sequence, culminating with an unusually realistic and passionate sex scene, that is as good at depicting the vagaries of the human heart, and our innate capability for forgiveness toward those who have earned it, as anything in the Dardennes' canon. Lorna's Silence doesn't work, but it's a beautiful misfire.