Monday, August 03, 2009
Misogyny is not just a river in Belgium
Meet Lorna. One of the most contemptible characters ever committed to celluloid.
This blank-faced beauty is the lead character in the latest cinematic offering from the Palme d'Or-winning brothers known as the Dardennes. The film's title is Lorna's Silence.
Before my rant kicks in, I should note that this is the first film in their oeuvre that I've seen. I've been told that that lack of context may play a role in my strong negative reaction to this film -- a reaction so strong and so negative that it caused me to play the misogyny card, my friends and compatriots.
Before I go any further, please be forewarned that this is another film rant on my part and it's bulging with ***SPOILERS***! So be alerted and what not.
I've also excerpted some quotes from The A.V. Club interview with the writers/directors.
And one more duty to perform before frothing at the mouth: Dictionary.com tells me misogyny is the "hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women." That's a pretty good range of emotions encapsulated in one explosion-inducing word. I think most people understand that the definition includes hatred, but some may not realize that the milder forms of "dislike" and "mistrust" qualify.
CUE THE RANT PROPER!
1. WHY LORNA'S SILENCE BORED ME:
For the 40 minutes or so of the film, I had difficulty connecting emotionally with this film's characters due to the performance choices the two lead actors made/were guided to make. I found Arta Dobroshi's turn as Lorna to be damagingly drained of emotion (outside of a few abrupt and exceedingly fleeting outbursts of anger, sadness and joy). Jérémie Renier as Claudy was distractingly weak in the role. Oy.
As far as the action and storyline, I don't think that that many telegraphs have been sent to an audience since the heyday of Western Union. Needless to say, boredom soon kicked in. By the 1 hr., 10 min. mark, I was longing to exit this film to re-watch the amazing Revanche (seek it out!) -- another film-noirish offering released this year that is far superior to Lorna's Silence in every possible way.
2. WHY LORNA'S SILENCE ANNOYED ME:
My boredom soon turned to aggravation when I realized that Lorna was one of the most despicable characters I'd ever been asked to sympathize with in a film. She is at turns amoral, icy, petulant, dumb, irrational, impetuous and greedy. As the capper, she devolves into unmitigated batshit crazy. What a ride!
Before the howls begin, I realize that *most people who have seen this film* are able to find a kindness at the heart of her character. Me? Hell to the no. I define her fleeting acts of compassion in the film as being consistently reluctant actions motivated by a craving for expediency in meeting her own goals or wanting to relieve her nagging guilt rather than anything truly sincere or heartfelt or humane.
3. ALLOW ME TO ELABORATE ON THE AMORAL POINT:
C'mon, guys. This is a woman who enters into a deal with the Russian mafia to falsely marry a junkie who she knows will be killed before the divorce he's been promised as a second payday. She makes this horrifying decision in order to gain citizenship by marriage and to earn relatively quick money, so that she can be with her boyfriend and open her dream snack shop with him. Well, what gal wouldn't be willing to let a drug addict get iced so she can serve speculoos to shopgirls?
Sure, Lorna has a crappy dry cleaners job and was living in a tiny box of a sublet before entering into this deal with the devil, but there are a lot of people with crappy jobs in tiny boxes of apartments who would never dream of colluding in a homicide. That the intended victim is a junkie whose life could easily be lost to drugs anyway should offer no clemency to this woman.
YES, YES. I KNOW! These are the kinds of moral dilemmas that the Dardennes like to explore in their work, along with the perceived value of human life. Great dramatic fodder, no doubt. I JUST WANT TO POINT OUT THAT THIS ACT AUTOMATICALLY QUALIFIES HER AS WORTHY OF DISLIKE, MISTRUST AND, IN MY CASE, HATRED! OK. So now *I'm* the misogynist. Fine. But let's move on.
4. ON THE PETULANT TIP:
Lorna is at her best -- outside of the happy bike chase with the drug bloke that lasts all of 60 seconds -- when she interacts with her boyfriend. Yet even with her man, her moments of pleasure are fleeting. She pouts habitually when he won't give her the right kind of attention at the right moment.
5. ON THE IRRATIONAL/IMPETUOUS/DUMB TIP:
Sure, Lorna tries doggedly to save the junkie by trumping up spousal abuse charges in order to gain a divorce. She even tries to reason with the mafia via her cabbie contact, Fabio, to stop the junkie's murder. BUT WHO TRIES TO REASON WITH THE MAFIA? SOON-TO-BE DEAD PEOPLE. AND CHARACTERS IN FILMS THAT NEED DRAMATIC CONFLICT, SURE. I'm just saying that it made me lose even more interest in her as an anti-heroine when she continued to act without considering any consequences.
Moving on, once again. After trying to bully the gentle junkie into hurting her, she even inflicts injuries on herself (irrational, impetuous, dumb) to create evidence to get the divorce. I know some will argue that these desperate acts are born out of a sense of caring for the junkie whose life she wants to save -- but it's ultimately all about what Lorna wants and needs. She wants the junkie alive, because she doesn't want to be an accomplice in his death. And, sure, she offers to help him stay clean after they get the divorce, but there is a franticness in her offer. The chick wants what she wants -- why won't this drug-addled idiot give it to her?!
The scene that could most easily be pointed to as representing Lorna's walls coming down is when she locks herself in the apartment with the junkie and strips naked in order to distract him from a drug buy by having sex with him. Surely this shows her at her most vulnerable and humane? I agree, it shows vulnerability -- yet still at play is the impetuosity, the irrationality (a one-night stand is supposed to cure a junkie?), stupidity (unprotected sex with someone who shoots heroin?). And there is no affection shown her on her part. It's a desperate animal act -- manic and misplaced.
Sure, when the junkie is killed, Lorna buys him a nice shirt for the funeral and tries to return his money to his mother. Again, this felt like a way to excise her guilt for being a jerk to him while he was alive, not to honor his memory or the junkie's mother. Oh, sure, her heart had softened towards him postcoitally, but that's a small comfort given the big picture.
And guess who snatches the one-thousand Euros she originally refused from Fabio for her extra "work" in getting the junkie clean? Our little Lorna. She then uses that money to get a loan on the snack shop space. Yes, folks, she enters this expensive arrangement before the second fake marriage vows have been spoken and before the divorce that will give her her final payday (now serving: more irrationality, impetuousity and stupidity). The woman's got no head for business, I tell ya!
6. YAY! WE'VE FINALLY REACHED CRAZY!
After signing the lease, Lorna becomes overcome by the belief that she is pregnant with the junkie's child. She considers an abortion, then flees the doctor's office before her exam can be conducted, but only after clutching the doc in a bizarre clench resembling a hug and bursting into gasping tears.
She later tries to put money in an account for her baby under the junkie's last name, but the teller says she can't open an account until the baby is born. She argues the point angrily until she finally agrees the money can wait in her account until her water breaks. So hard to reason with this woman!
She tells Fabio she's pregnant, then she asks her future fake husband if he'd be willing to deal with a baby. When the future husband says no and Fabio becomes impatient, she backs down. Oh, dear. So now Fabio no longer trusts her (would you?) and decides to have one of his henchmen introduce her to her maker. I have to admit, at this point in the film, I was kinda looking forward to having her character "silenced" because she had become like a festering boil in my movie world. Now *that's* misogyny for ya, but the Dardennes drove me there!
Lorna realizes she's about to get iced, tears well and she makes an excuse that she needs to pee in order to get out of the car. For the first time in the film, I'm able to relate to her -- I needed to urinate, too.
On the way out of the car, she tries to grab her purse. The henchman knows better and snags it back. She talks to herself and her imaginary fetus as she relieves herself, cleverly (for once!) grabbing a rock from the ferns at her feet. She then knocks the driver out with the rock with remarkable precision and runs like the wind, leaving escape-enhancing devices like his car, his car keys and her purse behind. Mkay. I should give her a break here, right? She's freaking out about her impending doom -- not thinking clearly. A girl can make mistakes ad nauseum throughout a two-hour running time. Fine. Whatever. I just want this misery over.
So she's running. Running through the woods to get away. I've read in two different spots now that this portion of the film can be interpreted as either being inside Lorna's fantasy or a bit of magical realism. Again, whatever. She finds a safehouse in the woods and builds a fire for herself and her ghost baby. A fire that -- if not in magical realism world -- would not only send out smoke that would help her pursuers track her, but would probably fill the room with carbon monoxide and suffocate her.
But back to crazy. During her desperate escape and firewood gathering, she speaks to her imaginary unborn baby with the royal "we." She tells the child she will protect it, since she let its father down. Again, this struck me as motivated by guilt for the blood on her hands -- to relieve her own discomfort.
7. THE FALLOUT
When I left the theater, I was angry for all the reasons I mention above. About 30 minutes later, I realized that there was more to my ire than mere quibbles with a disappointing melodrama. I was angry because while Lorna endured misogynistic treatment from certain male characters in the film, ultimately the film qualifies as misogynistic in itself. Most pointedly in the "end" she meets. After all, isn't making her character crazy-go-nuts the best punishment for such an amoral, icy, petulant, irrational, impetuous, dumb, greedy woman who won't play by the rules? Way better than just popping a cap in her ass or letting her escape by her suddenly located wits. Now she can stew in her own nutty juices, inhaling punitive smoke as she lies prostrate, pitiful, with her junkie baby dream, in those wacky red jeans. It's kind of a long-held tradition in misogyny, isn't it? The psycho bitch who gets what she deserves? Yeah, just super.
Now here's the rub -- I seem to be the only one who has had this reaction to this film. I am surprised by that fact since the details described above seem wholly damning to me. I assume others found her character sympathetic, compassionate, relatable -- a victim of circumstances. Maybe even Madonna-esque (the Biblical one, not Guy's ex). Egads.
OK, so now to face more possible fury for using the "M" word here. Let's ask the natural series of questions:
If Lorna was Loren and the story played out in the exact same way (um, minus the pregnancy), wouldn't he just be an unappealing character vs. an example of misogyny? To a point, yes, but there are vital details to Lorna's tale that makes the "M" word fitting. The particulars of Lorna's story -- the marriages of convenience, the intimidation factor by the tough guys she makes her partners, the faked domestic violence, the hysterical pregnancy and thoughts of abortion, even the "mercy sex" with the junkie -- these are all dramatic themes heightened by the protaganist being a woman, of course. But it's more than having a uterus that's at play here. These themes go to the heart of feminine wiles, power and vulnerabilities.
A quote from Luc Dardenne in reply to The A.V. Club's question of what inspired this film:
"It began, I think, with the desire to film a woman. We didn’t really know who, where, how, but it was the idea of a woman."
"Because we thought we needed to watch this woman, to observe, and not to mimic her movements with the camera, as we did in Rosetta. That requires a little bit of distance, and a more fixed position, to observe this mysterious woman, who has a skull with many compartments: She tells the truth to one, not to another. She takes part in many tableaux to arrive at this ending. So we watch her, sometimes with compassion, sometimes with hatred, sometimes with comprehension. We watch her. And we are always asking ourselves who she is."
Sometimes with hatred? I would say *mostly* with hatred, beloved Belgian dudes -- even if it is subtle, shuffling at the edges, disguised by a lingering camera lens of intermittent compassion/comprehension. At least that's the gut reaction it drew out of me. And I don't need Gloria Allred standing by my side to know my reaction has merit. I stand by my side.
PLEASE KNOW THIS: I'M NOT ACCUSING THE DARDENNES OF BEING MISOGYNISTS EITHER AS INDIVIUALS OR ARTISTS. And I freely admit that a film can contain misogyny and not be misogynistic in itself, BUT I do find this film of theirs to be very much misogynistic in the brutal way they've chosen to portray their character as storytellers. Once again, I know the brothers trade in brutal tales. Point taken.
Ultimately, the only comfort I can find in my opinion is that this film will serve to illuminate the ugliness it reveals and by illuminating it, may inspire something to curtail it. Let's hope so, because it's just a goddamn boring film otherwise. Insert smiley face emoticon here!