(Sony Classics) Arta Dobroshi, Jeremie Renier, Alban Ukaj, Fabrizio Rongione, Morgan Marinne, Olivier Gourmet, Anton Yakovlev, Grigori Manukov. Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
What would you do for money? It’s a question that fortunately most of us don’t have to answer, but for some desperate souls this is a very real question that faces them every day. The answer changes in proportion to how desperate the subject is.
Lorna (Dobroshi) is very much a desperate soul. She’s an Albanian immigrant who has paid Belgian junkie Claudy (Renier) to marry her so that she might get legal residency in Belgium. Or, rather, her handlers have; the plan is that Claudy be given an overdose, at which time Lorna would achieve full citizenship. Then, she marries a Russian mobster, giving him citizenship, after which she would be given a good deal of cash to divorce the mobster, enough so that she and her itinerant worker boyfriend Sokol (Ukaj) can open up their own snack bar and get married themselves.
Sounds like a good plan, but Lorna doesn’t plan on feeling sympathy for Claudy, who is trying very hard to kick his habit and turn his life around. The sympathy turns into something else, and her heart becomes torn; she surely doesn’t want to be responsible for the ending of a human life. She asks her handler Fabio (Rongione) if she can just divorce Claudy instead, but that won’t work; the Russian is far too impatient and the divorce takes much longer to go through. Will Lorna keep her silence or break it and save Claudy’s life?
The Dardenne brothers are renowned in cinephile circles for a certain style of filmmaking that is almost documentarian in nature; it forces audiences to focus on the subject rather than on the action. This has netted them regular trips to Cannes, where they have won numerous awards.
Here, as in most of their films, they’re taking a peek at the darker side of human nature. The character of Lorna starts out as cold and callous, not wanting to acquire any sort of feelings for Claudy which in turn will make what is ahead easier for her. Unfortunately, as with most humans, there’s no telling what the heart will do and the better angels of her nature make an unexpected appearance.
Dobroshi and Renier are the best parts of this movie; they bring some humanity to parts that might otherwise might come off as cliché or pathetic. You get the sense that the filmmakers aren’t really judging their actions; they more or less sit back and film and let the characters do what they will. That’s their strength.
Unfortunately, they make a tactical error nearly halfway through the movie; I won’t tell you the nature of it because I understand why they made it and it’s crucial to how the story plays out. Unfortunately, it jars the audience right out of the movie and getting back into it is nearly impossible by that point. For this reason alone the movie got as low a rating as it did with me, because nearly every other element of the movie works exceedingly well, as you would expect from master filmmakers.
In America, there are few who even know the films of these Belgian brothers which is a bit of a shame; while some might be familiar with The Child, their best-known film in America, mostly they remain more of a continental taste. Those adventuresome film fans may want to take a gander at the work of these brothers, although this particular movie isn’t their best by a long stretch. Still, their lesser efforts are better than the masterworks of most filmmakers, so there is that.
WHY RENT THIS: Some fine performances by Dobroshi and Renier make this compelling enough to recommend.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is unrelentingly grim and seedy. The movie makes a bit of a 90 degree turn just past midway through that jars the viewer out of the movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of sexuality and nudity and a little bit of violence and drug use (most of it implied); probably just enough to make this for mature teens and older only.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The only words in French that actress Dobroshi knew before being cast for the film were the days of the week; she had to learn the language in a crash course prior to filming.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 5/10
TOMORROW: The American