Not so quiet 

Struggling to enjoy Lorna's Silence

Ordinarily a movie-going experience like this one would leave me too annoyed to concentrate on the movie. I was hassled over even coming to see it: Couldn't I see that there was a hip-hop show going on, that I was the only one coming to see a movie, and for that I was a bother? I had noticed, as a matter of fact. Maybe Wilma management should think twice about actually offering movies on concert nights.

click to enlarge Secret handshakes of the bold and beautiful.
  • Secret handshakes of the bold and beautiful.

Then there was the delightful experience of actually watching this quiet little movie in the theater formerly called the "Jewel Box" with the bass cranked to 11 in the adjacent main theater. You folks at home, imagine watching a movie in your living room with a stereo dealer's company car, one of those window-rattling annoyances that noticeably loosens one's bowels, parked right outside the window, and the driver and 50 of his friends in the front hallway shouting to be heard over it.

In the days when the Green Room/Red Light bar and lounge shared the Wilma downstairs with theaters 3 and 4, the bass sometimes started throbbing through the walls even before the 9 p.m. movie was half over. As a reviewer, I sometimes attacked movies I saw there simply as a displaced reaction to the rotten conditions in which I was forced to see them. Given all that, and that I so dislike theater noise that I always try to sit in the back row to keep as much of the ambient whispering and popcorn-chewing and bag-rustling and mindless nose-whistling to the front as possible, and also given my brush with petty authority in the theater lobby, and not even counting roadies barging in every five minutes looking for untapped electrical outlets, I've still walked out of movies for way less.

Yet on this night I did not budge. It's not that I was so engrossed in the movie I could tune out the din: The external noise actually seemed to belong in this movie, which is all about plans gone wrong and, particularly in its first act, almost bristles with annoyance as a means of conveying the petty cultural and bureaucratic blows dealt to an Albanian woman living in Belgium—a very unglamorous Belgium, full of bureaucratic obstacles and annoying everyday occurrences even for the fluent speaker of French as a second language. The clatter of the dry cleaners where Lorna works, the noisiness of the cramped apartment she shares with her Belgian husband, the polyglot hubbub of immigrant street life—it all seemed to flow through the walls and doors of the theater from the hubbub just outside and right into the movie I was watching. I won't say the noise improved the movie, but it all proved far easier to deal with—rationalize, if you like—than I'd expected.

Through it all, the face of Arta Dobroshi, the actress playing Lorna, radiates a stoical calm no doubt formed from years of dealing with totalitarian bureaucracy back home. One can only imagine how bad Albania was for Lorna to put up with this drab clapboard Belgium, and the unsavory men who people her adopted corner of it, instead of going back. Worse than just noisy theaters, I bet.

Well, she's no Mother Theresa: Lorna paid a junkie to marry her in order to become a Belgian citizen, and now she's planning to dispose of him as soon as the Belgian identity card and the divorce papers come through the mail slot, in that order. She's getting twice as much to marry a Russian gangster in a deal brokered by an Italian cabbie with his own ideas about how to speed up the divorce process. Meanwhile, Lorna sees her Albanian boyfriend once a month or so as he's passing through town en route to another crummy temp job.

That there is a huge spurt of plot information compared to how long it takes Lorna's Silence to reveal the same amount. There is zero expository dialogue. Albania itself is only mentioned once, near the end of the movie. Lorna's origins are not particularly important—it matters only that she's an immigrant—but unless you're somewhat familiar with French and/or Albanian you might not notice that certain characters switch back and forth. This will be readily apparent to French-speaking audiences, of course, but the English subtitles make no distinction.

Lorna's Silence feels a bit like French New Wave updated with 21st century concerns. Something about the way Lorna/Arta Dobroshi carries herself in this low-rent demimonde of petty sums and immigration scams puts her alongside the most memorable Godard women: Jean Seberg in Breathless (1960) and Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie (1962)—decidedly new types of movie heroine to audiences of 50 years ago, just as Lorna and her predicament seem timeless yet freshly minted for us in this new century.

If you must wait to watch Lorna's Silence on DVD, you can recreate my experience by turning on every appliance in the house and cranking Tech 9ine over the top of it with woofers tuned to "liquefy innards." If you don't have any hip-hop, bring some neighbors over to hurl themselves at the walls in unison for that low thud thud kids today are so idiotically wild about.

Lorna's Silence concludes its run at the Wilma Theatre Thursday, Oct. 15.

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