‘The Unknown’ girl is the latest film by Belgian filmmakers the Dardennes brothers, which was initially screened at the Cannes film festival earlier this year. As with many of their films (they’ve previously directed ‘Rosetta’ and ‘The Child’, among many others) it’s a poignant display of subtlety and realism.
Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) is a doctor faced with a work-related dilemma. She’s recently been offered a well-paid contract in a new job, yet she’s also able to take over the surgery that she currently works at (which is much smaller) due to her practice’s doctor retiring. Julien (Olivier Bonnaud) is her trainee doctor, but he’s starting to feel like he doesn’t want to do the profession anymore. One night after the surgery has closed Jenny decides to not open the door to a patient who is then found dead the next day. She becomes obsessed with the case, and does some of her own investigating to find out the name of the girl so she can let the family know.
I’m a big fan of European films, mainly because they don’t have all the glamour and the overkill that you’ll sometimes find within Hollywood. ‘The Unknown Girl’ is one of those films where you don’t need music or drama in order to tell the story – it’s all about the connections between people, and the decisions that Jenny and the other characters make. It has a thoughtful plot line, and a very personal filming style that you’ll know if you’ve ever watched any films by the Dardennes brothers before.
Jenny is an interesting character as her flaws are highlighted throughout, from the initial mistake she makes that leads to the investigation she takes on, to the fact that she smokes despite her junior doctor role. However, despite the interesting storyline I found it quite hard to relate to her, simply because I didn’t agree with what she was doing. We see her become involved in all sorts of things that bear no relevance to her as well as potentially hindering a police investigation, and despite her good intentions it just seems like the wrong way to be going about it all. Although the film is moving at points this detracts from it somewhat, and so the empathy in the viewer isn’t as strong as it should be.
It’s slow-paced but it worked well for most of the film, giving us space to fully appreciate the beautiful camerawork and the good performances from the actors involved. Although the pacing and naturalism of the film worked well with the topic it still needed something extra – the ending felt rushed and anticlimactic in a way, and despite my love of European films it just didn’t stand out like examples I’ve watched previously.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend ‘The Unknown Girl’ because I completely would – just to the right people though. It’s not really a film to watch with a group to pass the time but more a careful piece of cinema to enjoy and reflect on in a moment of calm. It’s well worth a look if you’re into European cinema, but it’s not the Dardenne brothers’ best. 3/5
The Unknown Girl at CeX
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