The newest title from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the award winning duo behind ‘The Silence of Lorna’, ‘The Kid With A Bike’, and ‘Two Days, One Night’. They make films that have a social conscience, and that always seek to balance a question of morality within the narrative.
‘The Unknown Girl’ is about a young doctor who refuses to open the GP surgery door to a mysterious late night caller. The following morning she discovers that the caller is a girl who has been found dead, and as the title highlights, nobody can identify her. This brings about a sense of urgency in our lead – Adele Haenel giving an outstanding performance as the doctor Jenny Davin. She is made to reconsider her entire career aspirations, and reflect upon what it means to give advice to a changing society.
There are further dwellings upon these themes – she consoles intern Julien (a great on screen presence portrayed by newcomer Olivier Bonnaud) about his doubts that medicine might not be for him. As the narrative force presses on, we the audience are as desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery. Also implicated is Bryan (another newcomer, Louka Minnella) a child patient local to the surgery.
The camerawork is often handheld. At it’s best this allows us to get into the headspace of the protagonist. At it’s lesser moments it restricts some detail, or feels too obvious – detracting from the naturalistic performances. Notably re-edited by the Dardenne brothers to make more sense of the events on screen, the pace is sometimes a little off. When you compare this to their other work it doesn’t -quite- stand up. It lacks the frantic nature of a film like ‘The Child’, and is less involved than ‘Two Days, One Night’ for instance.
This tiny distance we have from the characters mean that the trademarks expected don’t quite deliver 100%. There are still narratives which are emotionally affecting, with characters on the fringes of the law, responsibility, accountability, and social status. At times these are fully explored. We understand Jenny’s desperation and the repetitive nature of her chosen profession in the familiar (sometimes identical) camera movements.
Each scene is made up of lots of physical detail. We see Jenny in her place of work, and then around the surrounding area as she decides which leads to chase. Often it is the central character pulling the narrative in her own direction. It is a fine line between this being a positive storytelling device, and it being contrived. The filming on location is always important to the Dardenne’s, who spend up to a month in the area/s during pre-production, to see if there are narrative or themes suggested to them through the idea of place.
‘The Unknown Girl’ is an undoubtedly solid feature, but not the Dardenne’s strongest.
| Zach Roddis
Drama | Belgium, 2016 | 15 | Curzon Artificial Eye | 6th February 2017 (UK) | Dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne | Adele Haenel, Olivier Bonnaud | Buy:The Unknown Girl [DVD]