Le Silence de Lorna
Back in the early '80s, the clamorous consistency of the Mancunian rock band The Fall was at such a high level that some fans got a little jaded. "Ho-hum, another great Fall album," we would shrug while at the same time marveling at such achievements as Perverted by Language or This Nation's Saving Grace, or what have you.
The art of Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne doesn't have a whole helluva a lot to do with that of The Fall's (although if somebody wants to issue a challenge, I'm sure I could come up with some convincing affinities), except for the fact that at the moment they're making film after film of such unassailable excellence that it's getting a little predictable. Their new one, Le Silence De Lorna, is their followup to the 2006 Palme d'Or winner L'Enfant, and while I doubt that the Cannes prize is gonna go to this film (which IS, you know, "conscious of the world that we're living in" and all, but in a way that's likely too quiet to please self-righteous jury president Sean Penn), I think it's every bit as nuanced, surprising, and deeply moving as that film.
The Lorna of the title is a young Albanian woman in Belgium who's just won her residency there. She has big plans—once her itinerant laborer boyfriend, who's jobbing it all over the E.U., gets in, they're going to open a snack bar together. All is hardly rosy, though, because Lorna got her residency via an arranged marriage to heroin addict Claudy (Dardennes stalwart Jeremie Regnier). The mobsters who got Lorna into the country and the marriage in the first place plan to kill Claudy with a fake overdose, after which Lorna will earn her freedom, and a big payday, by marrying a Russian in order to get him a residency. The efficient, organized, hard-working and seemingly pretty cold Lorna's plans start to go astray when Claudy makes a surprisingly good-faith attempt to straighten himself out. She's been looking at him as a rung on a ladder, but soon she's forced to recognize this genuinely meek and sweet fuckup as a human being.
The Dardennes' movies generally feature morally compromised protagonists who stumble onto the road to redemption without even knowing it. Their Lorna, played with exemplary quietude by Arta Dobroshi, succumbs to a kind of holy madness a little after the midpoint of the film, but in a very canny performing decision, she doesn't give any behavioral signs of that madness; she acts just as she has acted all through the film. It's just what she does that's different.
Critics often compare the Dardennes' films to those of Robert Bresson, but I'm not sure that's a terribly useful reference point any more. Their visual style is entirely more conventional (which is not to impugn its gracefulness); and while it wouldn't be true to say that Bresson wasn't as interested as story momentum as the Dardennes are, their approach to storytelling isn't as Bresson-inflectedly-idiosyncratic as some might tell you. Which is my hifalutin way of professing that Lorna is an entirely accessible film, one that moviegoers who like a nice juicy tale ought not be scared of.
Boy, Angeles City in the Philippines sure is frickin' noisy, at least if the new film from director Brillante Mendoza is to be believed. The hour-and-a-half of Serbis (translations: "service," as in sexual) unspools to an aural backdrop...well, no, actually, it's in the foreground—of non-stop traffic noise. All the action takes place in a spectacularly dilapidated movie theater on a particular busy corner. The down-at-its-heels family that runs the place also resides there, and the main business of the house isn't so much cinema as prostitution: when the lights go down, the fondling and fellatio, engaged in by a motley crew including pre-op transsexuals and alarmingly young-looking hooky-players, begins.
In the course of a day and early evening in the place, we're treated to such sights as a disgustingly backed-up bathroom, a detailed look at what appears to be a painful but effective treatment for a boil on the butt, and a wild goat chase. What we learn about the family itself, though, is pretty slim. As an environmental experience, Serbis has a peculiar voyeuristic draw, and that noisy soundtrack turns into a drone that has a near-trance effect. The hypnotic tedium of a life lived in underdevelopment and sensory overload and most likely oppressive humidity is, finally, effectively evoked. Beyond that, the viewer is out of luck.