The passing of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni last year (as well as the announced retirement of Eric Rohmer) sparked, as these things often do, another round of the “who are the greatest living directors” debate.
For me, such questions about writers and directors don’t really have a right answer. I think there is a group of artists who fit in the elite category and one’s inclusion in it is more significant than any casuistic rankings within it.
On a common sense level, the test for inclusion in that group is two-fold. First, they are the artists that, when you hear they have a new book or film, you feel immediately feel the pleasure of anticipation. They are the artists that the pleasure of watching their films actually begins before you watch and after you finish. Second, they are the authors or directors where you would line up to see the film simply because their names are attached to it.
This year’s list has four such artists on the list (Koreeda, James, and the Dardennes), with another two (Riechardt and Ceylan) who could be well on their way to joining them. All of which is my way of reminding myself that although I thought this a less than stellar year in terms of the amount of quality films I saw, I do feel blessed to be living at a time where there are a variety of talents who are at or around full stride.
As I mentioned in my review of the film (at Looking Closer), the buzz at both Cannes and Toronto surrounding Lorna’s Silence was somewhat muted. I’m tempted to chalk this up unrealistically high expectations. (As with Nuri Bilge Ceylan, I think the Dardennes have reached a point where their films are being compared to their previous body of work alone, which can skew one’s perspective.)
It’s probably more truthful, though, to say this film is little less accessible than L’Enfant or La Promesse. The first half of the film, which focuses on Lorna’s marriage of convenience to a Belgian junkie and her inability to turn away from him when the time comes fits nicely into the oeuvre that is a Dardennes film. But the second half takes some strange turns, and critics appeared uncertain what to make of it. I don’t say this to denigrate other critics or dismiss other opinions by saying they just didn’t get it, but I will say I’ve learned with experience not to be too quick to jump to conclusions with the Dardennes. Their preparation is meticulous, their thought process considered, and their finished products never come across before as haphazard. If there are problems with their story or idea, they solve them before they start filming.
So, yes, I think the end means something, and I tried to point towards an understanding (at least my understanding) of the third act in my review. My friend Russ once said of a colleague, “He understands that where there is recognized greatness, it’s his job to at least try to find it.”
The greatness of the brothers Dardenne is not really in dispute. It may be the case that years from now this particular film is deemed less great than some of their previous works. But I’m not convinced that the process of trying to find it has actually happened yet. We shall see.