La Fille Inconnue (The Unknown Girl)
Known for their stripped-back social realism, the Dardenne Brothers have already set the bar rather high for themselves, most recently with Two Days One Night. With The Unknown Girl, realism combines with murder-mystery to create a telling investigation into personal responsibility – but this time the whole thing falls a bit flat.
Dr Jenny Lavin (Adèle Haenel) works at a small surgery dealing predominantly with welfare patients in the suburbs of Liège, Belgium. One evening, she instructs her intern to leave the door when the buzzer rings after hours. This instruction plagues her after it transpires that the woman who rang the doorbell ends up dead a short while later. Jenny proceeds to juggle her GP role with that of detective as she becomes obsessed with finding out the victim’s identity, and it begins to emerge that she isn’t the only person with a guilty conscience.
Haenel is compelling as the hardworking Jenny, balancing her brusque, efficient exterior with some touching moments when she can’t help but drop this façade. Yet while viewers aren’t supposed to love her, nor are they ever allowed in to share her obsession with this girl. It is clear she feels guilt for the death, but after she has discovered the woman’s name, the whodunit becomes more of a rather selfish blame game. The most touching partnership within the film is actually the working relationship between Jenny and her intern Julien, with newcomer Olivier Bonnaud channelling the medical student’s crippling self-doubt perfectly.
The directors’ signature realism comes, surprisingly, at the expense of some depth of emotion. Tones are muted and the slightly grungy suburban setting gives scenes an air of Nordic noir – but without the tension. Close-ups of characters’ faces attempt to give audiences some insight into their thought processes, yet it is not enough and we never get near enough to really care.
This isn’t to say The Unknown Girl isn’t a very watchable movie: the screenplay is well crafted and, failing the very ending, doesn’t fall victim to melodrama. There are some touching scenes, too: a patient calls Jenny round for a home visit, then proceeds to perform a song for her; a concerned parent watches as Jenny calms her fitting son. It is unmistakably a Dardenne Brothers film, with its unfussy cinematography and calm observation, but not one to get overly excited about.
La Fille Inconnue (The Unknown Girl) is released nationwide on 2nd December 2016.
Watch the trailer for La Fille Inconnue (The Unknown Girl) here: