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.
★★★★½ review by Scott Bailey on Letterboxd
Well that's a nice uplifting movie to see around Christmas ;) The Unknown Girl is a French language film directed by The Dardenne Brothers, it stars Adèle Haenel. It is a drama about a doctor who is guilt ridden because she refused to see a young woman and after she finds out the girl is found dead, she believes that she was responsible. Realising the girl was found with no identity and is buried without a name, she decides to investigate people who she believes may have seen her to find out her name and let her family know as some kind of redemption to the burden she is carrying.
I'm actually really surprised to see the critical reactions have been mixed on this film so far because I thought it was an excellent film and one of the most beautifully shot films this year. As you can imagine by the premise this is a pretty gloomy film, but I found it to be a riveting experience overall.
This is not a way of me discrediting the rest of the cast as they are all excellent in this movie, but this film heavily relies on one particular character, Jenny played by Adèle Haenel. It is all about her, the camera is on her the whole time and she gives one of the absolute best performances I have seen all year. It pretty much shows her life and her work as a doctor. It pretty much consumes her life as she selflessly has to help others until that one fateful incident where she turns that girl away. Everything about her performance is believable and the weight of her guilty conscience is palpable. It really adds an intensity throughout the whole experience. Every character in this film generally felt believable to me and I loved that sometimes you would see outbursts that seemingly come out of nowhere, yet they always feel real.
I absolutely loved the cinematography by Alain Marcoen because it is stylish, but it is also subtle without ever feeling like it is shoved in your face. There was a point in this movie where I started to realise that almost every shot in this movie are long uninterrupted takes with minimal cuts, all shot with a handheld camera. It is beautifully executed and it gives the film a consistent flow and pace and it gives the film an unpredictable feel.
As for the musical score, well.... there is none! No music in the opening, no music during the film and complete silence once the credits rolls. This is a bold and risky approach, but to be honest the plot of the movie is so riveting I only realised this when it got to the end. To me it was effective because like the way the film is shot, it is subtle. There is no music telling you how to feel and I think it pays off because rather than feeling manipulative, the emotions felt real and earned. That is exactly why by Adèle Haenel's performance is so outstanding in this film, I truly believed I was watching a character that was being eaten away by her feelings of grief and despair, and was desperate for a sense of closure.
I have, but one issue with this film and that is the ending, thinking about it I found it a bit abrupt and anti-climactic. Still The Unknown Girl is one of the most underrated films I have seen this year and I highly recommend it. Definitely need to see more films from The Dardenne Brothers in the near future :)
★★★½ review by Leo (Willem) van der Zanden on Letterboxd
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's latest effort is basically the selfmade detective-plot pulled into their own world and comfort zone. This fortunately doesn't make it as bad as most people make it out to be, but it surely isn't their best work either.
The story starts with a young doctor working in a general practice. One night, after closing up, the bell rings but she doesn't answer since she's already working an hour overtime. The next morning she finds out a girl has been killed not far from her practice and as it turns out, this is the person who rang her bell. Out of guilt she takes it upon herself to find out what the girl's name was so she can remove the heavy feeling from her life, but there's more in her way than she imagined.
From the above plot you can already get a bit of an idea why this story might not work as well as other Dardenne-films have. With most of their previous efforts we got to see the inciting incident from up close. We followed the struggles of the main characters from second one and really got to endure their pain with them. With La Fille Inconnue the inciting incident literally happens offscreen. This forces our main character, Jenny Davin (played by the young Adèle Haenel) to take action and find an answer for the unspeakable crime, but it also switches much of the lower-class struggle for (truth be told) more melodramatic scenes and a leaning for forced emotions.
I do need to say that on a filmic level everything is as good as ever. The Dardenne's haven't in any way lost their touch in directing, their steady cam photography is still as on point as ever and new Dardenne-starlet Adèle definitely shows her power as she almost solely drives this film, but the film really suffers from the fact that we know as little as our main character. With their best films their wasn't so much mystery, because it wasn't needed. It helped us to know what kind of people we were looking at because even if we thought we knew them, placing them in new environments could still give surprises. Here we have to wait way too long before we actually get some closure and even then we have still seen only a flash of their usual and much more interesting lower-class environment.
It's actually a shame, because the character of a doctor and her practice (combined with the fact that she still visits people's homes, I honestly didn't know that still happened) is a beautiful way to look at this undervalued side of society in a multitude of ways. I just don't think a murder-mystery is the best way to do that. Nonetheless kudos for the brothers for trying something new and I'm definitely stoked for their next project. As far as I know they're going to do a film about a terrorism-attack which could seriously make a masterpiece if combined with their usual way of storytelling and sense of gritty realism. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!
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