This dispatch from the underbelly of 'fortress Europe' has a direct quality and passion that fully engages the viewer.
A Cannes winner (best screenplay) and Palme d'Or nominee that is mainly in French (with English subtitles), it tells the story of Lorna (Dobroshi), an Albanian immigrant in Belgium seeking to gain citizenship there as the first step in a plan that ultimately ends with her opening a small café with her Albanian boyfriend.
The citizenship is to be obtained through a sham marriage to a Belgian heroin addict, Claudy, arranged by their contact in the underworld Fabio, a smooth taxi driver-cum-wheeler dealer, brilliantly played with a mix of menace and suave by Fabrizio Rongione.
Essentially, Lorna’s situation means she is mixed up with a culture of crime and seediness from which she struggles to engage and get what she wants from while at the same time retaining a separate identity.
She can’t, of course, finding that the moral fudges she makes inevitably bleed into her ‘normal’ life.
A case in point is her relationship with Claudy with whom, because of stringent checks by Belgian police, she is forced to maintain a convincing looking ‘marriage’ by living together.
Lorna is initially disdainful and contemptuous but eventually warms to his underlying gentle nature and, to her own detriment, helps him to come off drugs. Eventually, she is trapped between her affection for Claudy and the knowledge that the plan of her ‘side’ does not end well for him.
Already compromised, she is drawn deeper into the web of deceit and criminality when a second opportunity for a fake marriage presents itself, only on this occasion its Lorna who is to do the honours on behalf of a cold and calculating Russian mobster seeking an EU passport.
It’s fascinating and entirely engrossing at times - with a fantastic performance by Dobroshi in the lead role - and the subtlety and skill of all involved is such that the viewer’s empathy with the character of Lorna is total as ever more difficult situations present themselves.
This is thought provoking too. We can, for example, contrast the addictive quality Lorna’s dream of a new life in a small café with Claudy's enslavement to drug addiction. Both are powerful, and both force their subjects into difficult positions. Ironically, it is Lorna’s dream that dulls her morality more than Claudy's drug addiction does his and ultimately, it proves the more disastrous affliction for both of them.
It ends on a typically Gallic note of incompleteness that is frustrating albeit arguably appropriate.