The Dardenne Brothers

By Robert Chilcott

silence-of-lorna-dardenne-brothers.jpgThe Silence of Lorna, 2008

With The Silence of Lorna, the Dardenne brothers continue their singular cinematic – and life – project

The universe of the Dardenne brothers positions a naturalism so extreme it occasionally transcends into the fantastical. Its characters are savage innocents, hopeful and desperate, so stubbornly blindsided by the routines of their delusional path to self-fulfilment that they cannot reconcile the cost of their modest desires to the poor fellow creatures that stand in the way. They are human animals, burying their possessions, like a dog does a bone, to safeguard them, hide them, a way of forgetting. But in earth they carry on living...

Robert Chilcott: There are several developments in your style with The Silence of Lorna – firstly you’ve moved onto 35mm, and also, at the very end, the use of overlaid music.

Dardenne brothers: Music was a way of carrying on for the spectator, to help carry on making Lorna exist – a way of lengthening her life, and also not to leave the audience alone. Apart from the difference between 35mm and super 16, what has especially changed is the distance that we have between the character and the camera. The camera is no longer with the character in his or her energy – we are observing, watching the character. So, because this woman is mysterious, one also has to give the plotline space to exist. That could have been done with super 16, except that 35mm is a bit heavier, and the heaviness helped reinforce our original decision.

RC: You have also moved from the town into the city.

DB: 10 kilometres. Not very far! A bigger city at night, with the lights, the people, the taxis, the buzz – that’s where an immigrant comes to. There are more dreams possible, more hiding, if need be, always finding cash-in-hand jobs, meeting people. Where we shoot normally at night, there is no-one. And it was good to place Lorna amongst these people, who don’t know her secret. It helped reinforce the secret. It’s more strange, it makes her maybe more dangerous as well.

RC: Also there are some narrative jumps – we never see the overdose of Claudy, and suddenly we see Lorna at the hospital packing up his things.

DB: It was a challenge we set ourselves in the beginning – the disappearance of this guy – we won’t see it on screen, but we’ll try and make it exist in a different way. Especially as it’s a scene we would have expected. Because it’s a film where we hide a lot of things, the characters hide a lot of things, and here it is something we hide from the audience. But it is going to be revealed in the scene where she’s folding the clothes, because initially it’s full of interpretations, but certainly not the obvious that she’s actually going to take them to the morgue. So it was a way of coming back, of returning to Claudy, through the loving gestures of Lorna. Maybe the fact that we chose to show it that way gave us the idea of Claudy coming back through the child in Lorna’s belly.

RC: There are endless shots of money in your films – the routines of financial transactions, the organisation of money.

DB: The film starts with money, yes. Cash that she deposits at a bank to enable a loan, and she says she will become a Belgian citizen. And then we’ll know that the money that’s going to be used to buy the snack bar also is used to buy a nationality and to buy human beings. Because Lorna, initially after Claudy’s death, refuses the money, later on she lets herself be bought. There is another type of money in the film, which is the money that enables human exchange, trust that people have in money, the cash and change in your hand, and when Claudy gives his envelope of money to Lorna he knows he’s giving something important, but he trusts her with something precious of his. And it’s the same thing for her when she goes to the bank and makes the deposit of money on this account for the baby she believes she has, she pays her debt. She’s not allowed to keep Claudy’s money – it is for the child. So there are two different sorts of money.

silence-of-lorna-dardenne-brothers-2.jpgThe Silence of Lorna, 2008

RC: All your characters have dreams that are obtainable. Lorna wants a snack bar, Rosetta wants a job, Roger wants a house, yet they go to extreme measures to achieve their goals – human life is cheap, but also profitable.

DB: You could say these films turn around the question of the price of life. But there isn’t a price – life is priceless. For Roger you could say that a life is worth less than the house he could get. For Rosetta it’s slightly different, but she does think at one point that Ricquet’s life is less important, that she could get the job instead. But finally, Rosetta is a better girl, because she drags him out of the water. And Lorna is a bit like Roger, even though, despite trying to help and save Claudy, through different strategic actions, she remains silent, so she’s an accomplice. So her dream at this point is still more important than the life of this guy. And it’s a snack bar – and not a very big one! They’re dreams, but they are small dreams – they are not to be the master of the world.

RC: Work is also shown in a lot of detail in your films. We learn a lot about carpentry in The Son, and how to make waffles in Rosetta – it’s very instructive.

DB: Except that we’ve tried in this film to minimise the work side. The work in Le Fils – that’s where the relationships construct themselves and become strong, around the work. Here it was more…yes she’s in the margin of society, but she also has this little job. But it wasn’t the centre of the drama. She’s in clothing and is just trying to remove the stains. In an early version of the script she was washing cars, but we thought it was a little bit too masculine and she should be cleaning other things. But always in cleaning!

RC: Lorna’s journey is similar to Rosetta’s, also Bruno’s and Igor’s – the realisation of what they have done wrong and the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.

DB: They are all trying to get out of their entrapment - they’re locked into something – to get out of it and to see there is someone facing them, in front of them. Lorna does it, but a little bit too late! And she can no longer speak, except to a child she thinks she has in her belly. I don’t know if it can be called redemption. There is the crime, and the exit upwards, there is a bit of humanity that comes into it.

silence-of-lorna-dardenne-brothers-3.jpgThe Silence of Lorna, 2008

RC: There is a more explicit fairy tale element at the end – she is a Little Red Riding Hood, alone in the forest cabin, making a fire and talking to herself.

DB: That’s not one of the reasons we chose the red trousers, but it’s true that for everybody in Western Europe it’s a telling reminder, a young woman in a forest, whether it’s Little Red Riding Hood or Tom Thumb. So this idea of the unreal also comes from the fact that she thinks she’s got this child, she believes in it but it doesn’t exist, so that adds to the fantasy. But we always carried on filming Lorna in a realistic way - she was going to carry on living - and film her gestures – to make a fire, how to lock up, close the window, the doors. To some extent she’s lost her mind. For us it was also a way, the possibility of redeeming herself, but also to become a very naïve character who believes that people will give her food the next day, and she’s become a very different character than the calculating person at the beginning. But these naiveté does not stop her from fighting to keep this child. She’s never been so determined.

RC: You’ve said before that your working process is to exhaust the actors: they get so tired that they act less at the end of the day and become less self aware.

DB: They mustn’t be too tired otherwise they sleep! But it’s true to some extent. There is a point somewhere where the actor lets go, abandons himself, is no longer guided by what he thinks and the decisions he’s made in the construction of the character, but is led rather than leading. I think the fact that we rehearse for a month and a half before, we rehearse a lot of everyday mundane gestures, movement, changes of position. We can spend a whole day working out how Lorna was going to hang her coat up, find her wallet, small things. And we always do that in the sets of the film, so the locations are ready way in advance, and the actors take part in the setting up of the place, making them theirs.

Every shooting day we rehearse as well and, after a certain time, all the work is there, in each of the actors, in them. Everything we tried and did together, it’s there. And I think it enables them to be more present, the actors, to just be there rather than to wish to be there. But they can be totally exhausted at nine in the morning! We said that in regards to Olivier in Le Fils, but then it was linked to the conditions of the shoot. The camera we used was very noisy, and because we were still feeling and sensing the rhythms of the film, we filmed each scene in three or four different places, and then we redid the thing only with sound, and because Olivier was in every single shot, when you get to the end of the day, now is the best time to shoot – you’re a bit tired, but it’s going to be fantastic. And he would always ask the question – does Olivier want to kill Francis, yes or no? And at five o’ clock he no longer had the energy to ask that question, he just had to keep his energy to do things physically.

Robert Chilcott is Vertigo’s online editor.