"A fixed style is like death." So spoke the Dardenne brothers, interviewed together in Sony Picture Classics' midtown offices for their new picture Lorna's Silence. The declaration might surprise people who peg the brothers as dedicated 16mm-toting followers of beleaguered, morally vexed characters. But their new film, about an Albanian immigrant caught in an elaborate passport scheme, marks a continued evolution in style, featuring among other things a more composed 35mm approach.
"Eduardo Filippo, an Italian writer and theater director, said: if you're looking for the style, you find the death. If you look for life, you find style," Jean-Pierre continued, and smiled. "It's good. Italian people, eh?"
The Dardennes have been looking for life their whole career, so to speak, and long before Lorna, they rooted this search in the small postindustrial area of Belgium where they grew up. Their hometown of Seraing and the greater city of Liege once hosted a major metalworks industry dating back to a mini-empire built by English machinery entrepreneur John Cockerill at the turn of the 18th century. In their montage-heavy documentaries of the 70s and 80s, the Dardennes reconstructed the 20th-century socialist movements and protests that later thrived, to the point of contributing to the abdication of the king in 1951.
But then a familiar-seeming industrial collapse took place — "a little like Detroit" — and the stories of struggle that mark the past decade of Dardenne features radiate out of this decline.
"That was the situation that was the beginning of our reflection on cinema and of our work," Luc said. "Where there's no more solidarity and people were living and doing things on their own, for no reason, with no motivation. Unemployment, empty houses, broken families, people alone, lot of lonely people, drugs."
In their latest film, Lorna's predicament belongs to a more recent vintage: she has married a Belgian addict to attain citizenship, in an organized-crime arrangement that goes awry when a Russian gangster gets involved. Lorna, played by Albanian actress Arta Dobroshi, marks Dardennes' continued interest in the double binds of the cash-strapped and in the immigrant communities that testify to the region as a crossroads. (Besides the construction workers in their 1996 breakthrough La Promesse, their documentaries also paid notice to the country's Polish expat community.)
Stylistically, the Dardennes give Lorna her space in a way distinct from the barging energy of Rosetta or the streetside wanderings of L'Enfant.