The Unknown Girl




Not the best from the Dardenne brothers, but a highly personal work all the same.

The Unknown Girl

Adèle Haenel


The opening scenes of this new work from the Dardenne brothers are decidedly promising and indeed characteristic. Quietly realistic, it at once introduces us to Dr Jenny Davin doing temporary work in place of a retiring doctor. Jenny (Adèle Haenel) immediately comes across as highly competent and conscientious and with a concern for a young intern (Olivier Bonnaud) who proves to be having doubts about his chosen career. However, early on in the film Jenny quite understandably chooses to ignore the surgery bell when it rings out of hours, and this takes on unforeseen significance when the unknown caller, a girl, is found dead. Although her decision had been reasonable and no sense of guilt on Jenny's part is really justified, she feels a responsibility which leads her to take on personal enquiries to identify the victim buried as a person unknown.


The setting of Seraing in Belgium, the absence of a music score and the wonderfully real faces of the patients seen make for a work close in character to what may well be the best film to date by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night (2014). But, where that film had a personal tale to tell that took on huge social dimensions, The Unknown Girl is less rewarding in that respect. As it proceeds much of the film plays like a quiet, subdued version of a standard thriller (could the death have been murder and who, whether a killer or not, knows much more than they are telling?).


Jenny is certainly obsessed by her need to undertake this quest to compensate for any failing on her part, but the film lacks the urgency of a true thriller. Indeed, one comes to feel that the Dardennes are more concerned to show how Jenny's actions lead to fateful changes in others as characters confront themselves and start to ease their pain by acknowledging their sins. If only there was a more open religious element here one might call the drama Bressonian. But, despite the endeavours of a good cast, the climactic scenes don't quite ring true, so by the close one comes to understand why some critics at Cannes described this film as being below the standard hoped for from the Dardenne brothers. Even so, it could only be their work and, if it falls short, it nevertheless emerges by the close as a more ambitious piece than at first it had seemed to be.




Cast: Adèle Haenel, Olivier Bonnaud, Jérémie Renier, Louka Minnella, Olivier Gourmet, Nadège Ouedraogo, Thomas Doret, Ange-Déborah Goulehi.


Dir Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Pro Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne and Denis Freyd, Screenplay Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Ph Alain Marcoen, Art Dir Igor Gabriel, Ed Marie-Hélène Dozo, Costumes Maïra Ramedhan-Levi.


Amazon Les Films du Fleuve/Archipel 35/Savage Film/France 2 Cinéma/Canal+/Ciné+-Curzon Artificial Eye.
107 mins. Belgium/France/Italy. 2016. Rel: 2 December 2016. Cert. 15.