Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Country: Belgium / France
The work of the Belgian brothers, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, is known for their technical rigor, narrative consistency, strong social vision, and impressive realism. With a career that spans more than 30 years, the directors gave us enough reasons to smile while staring at the screen. “Rosetta”, “L’enfant”, “The Son”, "The Promise”, and more recently, “The Kid with a Bike” and “Two Days, One Night”, brought something valuable and genuine to the world of cinema, focusing on themes like unemployment, troubled childhood, delinquency, immigration, exploitation, and many more.
In their new drama, “The Unknown Girl”, the brothers carry out some modifications, not in terms of visuals or filmmaking style, but attempting to squeeze a sort of character study within a crime thriller.
If the character was built with sufficient honesty to deserve my approval, the thriller was never more than a bland triviality, lacking true mystery and decent suspenseful moments.
The central character, Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel), a sensitive, attentive, and respected young medical doctor living and working in Liége, Belgium, shows deep concerns about her intern, Julien (Olivier Bonnaud), who can’t put his emotions away in stressful situations. While he gets paralyzed in the worst emergencies, she insists on the importance of a good diagnosis. Whenever she admonishes him, Julien admits his faults but gets a bit sore. After all, medicine had been his true passion.
On a very busy day, someone rings Jenny’s office’s doorbell after closing time. Tired, she doesn’t open. Slightly after that, Julien runs down the stairs in such a way he seems he won’t go back there anymore. In truth, he gives up the internship and medicine, and Jenny becomes devastated by thinking she had something to do with his decision.
To worsen her state of guilt, two inspectors arrive to examine the cameras because the woman who had come after-hours was found dead by the river. The cause of her death is unknown and she couldn't be identified either. Mysteries the obsessed Jenny tries to find out by herself.
This doctor turned into fearless investigator faces some serious threats when she starts digging in the mud and learns that the culprit is closer than she ever thought.
Despite setting up with the habitual naturalistic and artistic contours, the film drags aimlessly for large periods of time in its recycled wave of ideas. Most of the dangerous situations that Jenny experiences feel fabricated and very similar one to another.
The directors, who love to shoot resorting to the available light, forgot to use some glow in their story, never going beyond the simple and often boring formalities.
“The Unknown Girl” is a minor Dardennes and, probably, their flattest work.