The Unknown Girl
Jenny, a young doctor who feels guilty after a young woman she refused to see winds up dead a few days later, decides to find out who the girl was, after the police can't identify the young woman.
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★★★★½ review by Tasha Robinson on Letterboxd
As my colleague Noel Murray once said in a review, ho-hum, yet another delicate masterpiece from the Dardennes. This latest deals with a young female doctor who ignores a patient at her clinic door after hours. Then she finds out the next day that the woman died, and she sets out to discover what happened. This is a terrific procedural where the procedure is basically "Be kind, care, ask questions, don't give up." The central performance is terrific, but the real winner is the structure, which follows a sort of neo-noir/gumshoe pattern, but keeps it personal and intimate.
★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
How quickly the individual in the position you trust most can become he or she that you trust least in the face of self-endangerment and/or (inter)personal embarrassment.
★★★★½ review by Jaime Rebanal on Letterboxd
Like the many other efforts of the Dardenne brothers, The Unknown Girl continues to play upon their knacks for approaching social realism but it's also interesting to see the sort of route which they are taking in here. With The Unknown Girl, it feels more as if the Dardenne brothers are approaching the paths of a mystery film and yet it still feels like something that they would be making at least when watching them address what they always play out in their work. As of yet, it stands as my least favourite of the Dardenne brothers' films but even their weaker efforts (pointing towards Two Days, One Night and Lorna's Silence) still are fascinating in some way, and The Unknown Girl is not any different of a scenario.
Our story revolves around Jenny Davin, a doctor who is met with an unexpected feeling of guilt the moment in which she is informed that a woman who rang her doorbell had been found dead in the following morning after the incident. In no time, Jenny begins playing detective because she hears after burial that the name of the girl is still unknown and she cannot accept the lack of knowledge from any other family members who possibly may still be around. From the storyline alone it would be easy to assume that this may not be something that the Dardenne brothers would normally work with but somehow, they manage to create something that is both compelling and moving in equal measure - it's an admirable effort which we are receiving.
In terms of how The Unknown Girl is representative of Jenny's guilt, this is what makes the film work so well. It is from how the Dardenne brothers are depicting her arc from start to finish that highlights the success of The Unknown Girl. Adèle Haenel's performance takes the spotlight, for she displays a specific range of emotional depth that speaks out for the film's own gain, as it still remains intact with what the Dardenne brothers can achieve from the lead actors whom they acquire for their works, as they always aim to feel genuine. As we are watching Adèle Haenel's performance in here, the guilt can be felt not only from her face but the actions which her character performs, which ultimately put her own place amongst her peers at risk given as she decides to play detective by going out to search for the girl's identity.
Knowing what the Dardenne brothers can work around, it is interesting to see how they manage to turn to the mystery genre while still carrying their knack for social criticisms. Many traces of The Unknown Girl draw back to film-noir, especially when it comes to the emphasis on finding out who exactly is the titular "unknown girl" and how people who may be connected with said girl react especially when confronted with a harsh reality that faces them - but it also aids the vision which they are able to provide as like Jenny, there is a feeling of guilt coming into them especially when we look at how people whom are being questioned choose to remain silent or deny any knowledge of the girl. The Dardennes keep this image haunting the atmosphere of The Unknown Girl, and creates a more suspenseful nature for the work.
Where The Unknown Girl seems to falter, however, is a problem which pervades the third act. Given as so much has been established especially with the guilt that has overcome many people who may or may not have been linked to the girl, it was disappointing to see how the third act seemed to rely far too much upon conveniences for the plot in order to find a proper conclusion. Some of the revelations, however, are interesting in the least, but too much happens in a nature that feels so out of the blue that connections ultimately feel so vague. Some good moments end up saving the entirety of the third act from being a complete disaster especially when compared to the rest of the film, but even then it still feels distinctively weaker knowing what the Dardenne brothers were able to create.
The Unknown Girl is a fascinating turn for the Dardenne brothers but it also goes down as their weakest effort yet given as it seems to be a film which rushes to find a proper conclusion from what had come its way in the third act. That's not to say it bogs down the entire film, which is excellent especially in its portrayal of guilt and how it has impacted people who may have knowledge of the incident, but the way it was handled could have come in a much better and more nuanced manner. At least when it came to managing the shifts in tone, the Dardenne brothers still remain successful. Which, all in all, is what The Unknown Girl has proven itself to be. It is the weakest offering of theirs by far, but it also shows the incredible consistency to their work.
★★★★★ review by Disgustipated on Letterboxd
In this Dardenne brothers film, The Unknown Girl, Dr. Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) is harshly rebuking her intern for letting his emotions affect his response to a patient who experienced a seizure in their waiting room. At the same she is readying herself to leave when the buzzer for the surgery's front door interrupts. Rushing to attend a celebration, that same supression of emotion enables her to choose not to answer the door despite her interns protestations. The next day, Dr. Jenny learns from detectives that the lifeless body of the person on the other end of that buzzer, the eponymous unknow girl, has been found not far from her clinic.
Initially presented as an aloof woman with a biting temperament, always on the ready to spit excoriating venom and condescension in the direction of the fools she does not suffer gladly, she is far from being a sympathetic character. However, determined to identify the unknown girl and contact her family, she sets out on her home visits, interrogating each patient for clues. In the process, we see a very different Dr. Jenny as she proceeds on her rounds. Patients respond to her presence enthusiasm and warmth, and in turn she exhibits great care and compassion.
This changes our opinion and sets up a complex character with a duality of conpeting natures that sometimes seem at war with one another. Not that we are necessarily privy to the order of battle. A big part of the film is made up of tight close-ups of Dr. Jenny's face, demanding that we carefully scrutinise her face for clues to the identity of the unknown girl behind her eyes. Yet, no matter how exposed her face may be, Dr. Jenny remains elusive. Its inscrutable features gives very little away other than to register an expression of unresolved turmoil.
Along with her relative paucity of dialog and the plain homogenous clothing that she wears, she borders on being a non-self. She is without identity, alone and without family. And so, her determination to find the identity and family of that unknown girl, sometimes wrecklessly without care for life or limb, is far more revealing of her interior world than could ever possibly be gleaned from a gesture, an expression or a few mere words. Her quest is not just an act of atonement for not answering that buzzer. It is a projection of all her inner turmoil writ large across the burial shroud of that young woman's body.
I really liked it. Might be a bit tedious for some.
★★★★½ review by Milez Das on Letterboxd
Filled with guilt after finding out a girl is dead who rang her doorbell the other night which she didn't open for, Jenny Davin a Doctor sets out to find out the girls name and what circumstances lead to her death.
The Unknown Girls sets a path of mystery coiled with Jenny's guilt that fills up her conscience. She blames herself for not opening the door and for what reason. She becomes a detective herself, asking people if they knew or seen her. For her the most important thing becomes is to find that girls name as she feels that the girls family should know where she is buried if they are still around looking for her.
Directed by the Dardenne Brothers, The Unknown Girl becomes a effort put in reality of a person whose conscience starts to get her. You can see a slight change in Jenny's behavior, she becomes a little kind with encouraging her intern who left the practice to peruse his dream gain. With every person she meets who deny seeing the girl every, Jenny starts to feel this more important than ever.
Adèle Haenel as Jenny Davin is exceptional. Her body language and the emotional depth she carries throughout creates something more for this movie. Haenel's performance feels real as we take on the journey with her. You can see the burden she feels after hearing the girls death, the tears that slowly come in unknowingly of her. The risk she takes with this investigative work, the guilt she carries on, finding the girls name and something more she can with it.
The Unknown Girl is a drama filled with mystery, reality of a persons guilt and suspense. It slowly builds the momentum carrying on with Jenny's investigation that starts to peel some layers that shows a persons guilt that builds inside our conscience that never leaves you until you face it. With Adèle Haenel's exceptional performance that takes you along with her journey, The Unknown Girl shows Dardenne Brothers another beautiful work.
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