Arta Dobroshi was a surprise. Dressed in a pretty turquoise sleeveless sweater and jeans, she stepped into the small office on the Thessaloniki pier, where I was to interview her, with a bright pretty smile and fresh eyes, and immediately went to the window and opened it. "My it's hot in here", she said, fanning her face..
I stared at her. "I don't recognize you," I said.
She laughed. "That's because I am smiling! I do smile, you know. But not in the film."
It is true. The character Lorna she plays in the Dardenne Brothers new film Silence of Lorna never smiles. She has good reason not to. An Albanian immigrant in Belgium, trying to make ends meet, she resorts to scamming a heroin addict along with some thugs.
Arta explained that like the character of Lorna in the film, she is Albanian. She grew up in Kosovo, and then, after a jaunt in North Carolina as an exchange student, she and her family escaped the war-torn country and went to Albania. But then civil war broke out in Albania (in 1997) and she had to go back to Kosovo.
"I was born October 2nd, 1979," she explained with a breathless, happy face. "And since that time, the situation has not been good in my country. We were always occupied by the Serbian regime, always having protests. In 1990, the Serbian regime fired all the people in schools. We had to learn in these improvised schools, making jokes about how we had to sit on the floor as there were no desks. My parents were kicked out of the country as well. You know, 96 percent of people in Kosovo are Albanian, fighting to have our own country. In 1990, everybody was kicked out.
Still we had good friends, good family. We went to concerts, and enjoyed ourselves, but at the same time, you had to be careful for your life. Our parents tried to keep us protected, to have us children not watch too much TV news. My grandparents were in jail because they were trying to open a university. We lived two lives. I worked with a journalist in the war zones, at age 18, as a translator. Then I finished high school and I went to study arts in Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo.
How did you get interested in acting?
The first time I got in contact with drama was in America, where we put on a dramatic play. Then when I went back to Kosovo, at age seventeen, I put on a play with a youth organization called Post Pessimists. I had so much fun doing it. . It was really exciting having debates about the situation. I knew lots of things about acting and directing because of my older brother who was studying directing. I was between acting and painting, and the academy accepted me for acting, so I was so stressed thinking they would not accept me. There were only ten people accepted. I started the first year, but then the Kosovo war started, so we went to Macedonia. We spent three months there. I was working for IMC, a refugee camp, with doctors who helped build these camps. Then Milosevic resigned. I quit my job there, and became a translator for NATO.
Can you remember any key moments during this time?
We wanted to see my father. We waited a day in Macedonia, then we got to go back.
This was the most moving moment of my life: my father was stranding in the window of a hospital. He turned and saw us in NATO clothes, and thought we were the Russian army, and he cried. He had stayed behind when we left. He did not want to leave his country."
How did you relate to Lorna?
"The issue of Lorna I understood. After I read the screenplay, I wrote a biography of her character. I knew it was important that she is a foreigner who wants a new nationality. She is a woman who is trying to survive and trying to have a normal life. In her head, she wants to open a snack bar. While I didn't have this personal experience of wanting a new nationality. while living in Kosovo, it was dangerous for Serbs so my brother left. Also there were many people who left Kosovo who wanted a better life, or who were politically accused by Serbs. I had a friend whose father was chased by Serbian police and went to Germany for ten years.
I also understand the feeling of leaving a country. I shoot movies all over and travel all over. I am choosing between Paris and Brussels at the moment. I am used to living everywhere. I don't want to be based somewhere for good yet."
How did you ever meet the Dardenne Brothers?
"The Dardenne brothers saw some of my Albanian and Czech movies, and the casting agent called me. I was in Sarajevo doing a play, and they were doing a casting in Prishtina. I did the audition and afterwards they asked if it were possible to come to Belgium to shoot these two scenes in French. So I learned these two scenes in two weeks. I did not know French, so I worked with a friend to learn the scenes phonetically. After two days with the Dardenne, they said, "Congratulations you are Lorna! Now we would like you to learn French and cut your hair." I had two weeks to learn French. I studied eight hours a day. Yes, I speak it fluently now!"
Was it important to the Dardenne that you were Albanian?
"The Dardenne brothers had heard the real story from an Albanian. The insisted that the actress not be Belgian. They told me that if they had not found me, they would have changed the nationality."
What is it like to work with the Dardenne brothers?
"They are so open. They make you feel so relaxed, which is so important when you make a movie, because they give you the confidence to create freely. We rehearse every scene just before shooting. The camera is so close, you have to specify every action. Everything is controlled. Nothing is improvised.
The love scene was the only one we did not rehearse first. They said: you have to feel it first alone, when to kiss Clodie. It is the first scene in which she is vulnerable and open. In a way she gives herself and she feels for him. She wants to save him. It is a love story, but you cannot say she totally loves him. She feels a lot for him.
Lorna has a lot of changes, and lots of emotions, and you never know what she is feeling exactly. There are a lot of mixed feelings. After the scene when Clodie dies, I felt sad. I was feeling sad and weird, inside you know, but I don't specify what I am feeling. Because it was shot chronologically, I just went with the flow. You build it brick by brick."
What is the meaning of the film for you?
"For me the movie has a positive feeling. At the end, it has this kind of hope. Something opens. She found peace within her. She went through so many battles to have the snack bar, and she was battling for everything, and she has problems every ten minutes, and she changes with each problem. In the beginning, you see Lorna as a robot, very straightforward. She keeps her emotions inside, then as the movie develops, she tries to express her emotions. The first time she cries in the movie a little bit is when she has the love scene with Clodie. And little by little, she becomes more fragile, and she becomes more aware.
Many times I cried myself because of what happens, because it is good for the character. The first time I saw the movie, I cried when I saw the scene when the two inspectors come inside the room and they ask her, did you think he had any suspicion about someone trying to kill him. She is stuck in the corridor, and she is so emotional she cannot speak. She made me cry. It is always good if you are full of emotion and you keep them in, and you don't show them. It is more powerful for the audience. I was watching it like I was a member of the audience."
Now, is Lorna pregnant at the end?
"Yes, for me, she is pregnant. Of course, I as Arta say she is making it up. No, it's not pathetic that she believes she is pregnant. She invents someone because she is so alone. She finds peace in that she makes up someone."
Are you Lorna in any way?
I am not Lorna. That is why I don't look like her. Most of the movie, Lorna is closed. She cannot get up and laugh and move around. She looks smaller, because she is closed. I am different. I am very outgoing and love laughing. Perhaps she would be like that in a different situation. For now, she dances only in one scene with her boyfriend. Laughing is good. It's healthy, and it means you are feeling healthy. So it is sad that she does not laugh.
What makes you laugh?
To be happy, and the people around you to be happy. If you're okay, then everyone else is okay. Now it is good in Kosovo. Now we can walk freely. I loved the speech of Obama. I was in Montreal, when I heard it, when he said no matter what race, nationality, color, we are the same. I cried.