A doctor attempts to uncover the identity of a patient who died after she refused her treatment.
‘The Unknown Girl’, the latest film by the prolific Dardenne brothers, is the story of a doctor who sets out to find the identity of an unknown girl who died near her surgery in Liege, Belgium, after she didn’t open the door to let her in after the surgery had shut. The film begins with this incident and then begins to explore the effect this has on Jenny (Adèle Haenel) as her guilt leads her to start investigating the death herself. I found the film to be moderately enjoyable and interesting, but it feels a little lacking compared with some of the Dardennes finer pieces of work and this is likely to go down as an average entry in their extensive filmography.
The film is structured similarly to their last film, ‘Two Days, One Night’ in that we follow one character as they visit a variety of people in the aims of achieving their goal. In the case of ‘Two Days, One Night’, that aim is to persuade colleagues to give up their bonus so Marion Cotillard’s character can keep her job, whereas in ‘The Unknown Girl’ it’s more of a detective tale as Adèle Haenel’s doctor attempts to discover what happened to the titular character. The key difference is that ‘The Unknown Girl’ lacks the personal element that characterises ‘Two Days, One Night’ so strongly, and it’s a harder film to really get into and I felt like more of a curious bystander than fully invested as I was in Marion Cotillard’s characters fate. I think this is largely down to the script, which feels a little light on substance and I don’t think the film does a strong enough job of articulating its themes in a way that ties everything together in a meaningful and powerful way.
Adèle Haenel’s performance as the lead is strong, although her character is written as fairly distant and her motivation to insert herself so deeply into investigating the circumstances of the girls death is never given any reasoning beyond her guilt, which I felt was a stretch given the way the narrative plays out. I also felt the film resolved the questions around what happened in a fairly conventional (for a piece of writing) way and I didn’t think it had to play out as neatly as it did. I did enjoy ‘The Unknown Girl’, largely for Haenel’s performance and the little vignettes with various patients, but the overarching story doesn’t feel as substantial as it would need to be to make this a really good film.
Directed By: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Starring: Adèle Haenel, Olivier Bonnaud, Jérémie Renier, Louka Minnella, Christelle Cornil, Nadège Ouedraogo, Olivier Gourmet, Pierre Sumkay, Yves Larec, Ben Hamidou, Laurent Caron, Fabrizio Rongione, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Thomas Doret and Marc Zinga