Le Silence de Lorna (2008)

18 03 2009

Like Philippe Garrel, the Dardennes have strayed very little from their usual style with their latest effort. At times, the plot becomes a bit too important (if that makes sense) but overall, it is definitely the same thing I’ve come to learn and love from them. If there’s any sign of change here, it’s that they seem to be slowly drifting into the realm of the crime genre. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a genre film by any stretch of the imagination, but their past two efforts have featured some criminal drama elements. It’s not a problem here or in L’Enfant, but I still find this thematic progression (if one can even call it that) more than a tad bit interesting.

As I already mentioned, the story here is more than a little bit absurd. A young Albanian couple dreams of having their own cafe. To secure the money, they agree to a bizarre settlement in which Lorna must marry a heroin addict. This all sounds a little bit ridiculous, but the exposition does not come in that order. It is slowly revealed that Lorna is not and has never been in love with her husband, Claudy. Instead he’s part of the deal. His likely death will leave Lorna and Sokol enough money to live out their dreams. This dream, though, is not introduced into the frame until the second half.

Taking this into account, I strongly recommend not to read any plot synopsis of the film, including this review. (I realize I probably should have mentioned that earlier.) If one knows all the details of every relationship than almost all of the narrative’s dramatic drive is absent. Of course, Dardenne fans know exactly what they’re getting into here – the characters’ back stories make up only a fraction of the film’s positives. Anyone who has seen a Dardenne picture before will not be surprised by the usual tracking handheld aesthetic, but it is worth mentioning that the camera moves in a much more fluid manner here. In addition, the visuals here are a bit more pronounced than usual. Not quite as expressive as 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days but certainly more poetic than L’Enfant. On the other hand, maybe it is just the abundance of neon lights that gives me this impression.

It should go without saying that the performances are pretty excellent all around, but Arta Dobroshi is particularly impressive. She pretty much has to be considering a majority of the film is tracking shots of her walking around. According to the not so trustworthy folks at IMDB, she knew hardly any French before she was casted. Did I say she was impressive yet? There are a few moments that border on melodrama, but it seems that she always grounds the other less subtle performers. Whatever the case, she’s absolutely wonderful and I definitely look forward to seeing more of her.

La Frontière de l’aube (2008)

18 03 2009

More of the same from Garrel here, he isn’t going to convert any non-believers with this effort, but he is going to satisfy the taste buds of his fans. Personally, I have no problems whatsoever with his world consisting of attractive and depressed people falling love with other attractive and depressed people. Sure, it’s not ground breaking or even a slight alteration in the scope of his career, but it is pretty good for what it is. If there’s really anything I can out of this film that I wouldn’t from Garrel’s other recent efforts its that seemingly all “romantic” modern French directors are fascinated by super natural concepts.

The still slightly unrecognized Jean-Pierre Civeyrac is probably the best example of this phenomenon. In almost all of his most recent films, a character is haunted by a recently deceased character. Obviously, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that Through the Forest isn’t a film interested in scaring the audience or even surprising them. Instead, all these recent ghost love stories have just changed some specifics to the whole nostalgic romance tone of Wong Kar-Wai. I admire both Civeyrac and Garrel for attempting to produce more accurate depictions of ghosts, but maybe mainstream film has just diluted the power of such a concept. In that respect, I can’t help but laugh when a dead Laura Smet talks to Louis Garrel through a mirror.

Unlike Civeyrac’s ghost stories, Garrel introduces the ghost-to-be during her existence as a living human being, as opposed to a dead one. There’s merits in both narrative routes, but I personally align my tastes more towards Civeyrac’s as I think it is closer to the aforementioned tone of nostalgic romance. Garrel’s narrative plays out in a rather straight-forward way. Smet and Garrel fall in love, complications ensues, Smet dies, and Garrel tries to move on. He, as one might expect, fails and this provides much of the drive for the film’s final fourty minutes or so.

While I completely understand, and in some respects, agree with the criticism Garrel has recieved, I found the best sequences to be the closet to self-parody. The early sequences between Smet and Garrel aren’t all that different from any number of scenes Garrel has made in the past ten years, but the half-hearted attempt at trying something new may indicate that Garrel should stay in his comfort zone. Assuming he does, I’ll always be willing to eat it up.