Film

The Unknown Girl


The Unknown Girl (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne craft yet another beautiful portrait of ordinary people who just happen to find themselves in a moral quandary and then must deal with the aftermath of their action or inaction. A deeply humanistic picture that does not ask for anyone’s judgment or sympathy, “The Unknown Girl” urges attentive and intelligent viewers to question what we would have or might have done had we been thrusted in a similar situation. It only asks that we be honest with ourselves. Therein lies its quiet power.

This time around, the focus is on a young physician (Adèle Haenel) who chooses not to answer the door because she and her intern (Olivier Bonnaud) have been in the clinic an hour past closing time. The next day brings tragic news of a dead girl whose body is found at a construction site right across the street. The clinic’s video recording reveals that the doorbell was actually a cry for a help. Clearly distraught and desperate, it appears the girl without a name was being chased.

The material is interested in exploring who Jenny is as a doctor, on and off the clock. It is interesting that Haenel plays the character with a rather stolid surface most of the time, even telling her trainee that in order for him to become a good physician he must always keep his emotions in check. But behavior says paragraphs about a person and the Dardenne brothers observe without appraisal, not even a hint of a score or soundtrack. We hear every footstep, each uncomfortable shuffling, the deafening silence in a room when a person struggles to keep a secret.

Notice the way Jenny looks at her patients, how she injects needles into her patients’ skins, how she touches and moves their limbs as she attempts to examine what might be going wrong in their bodies. Then notice how her patients regard her when they are being cared for, as Jenny supports them up and down the stairs after a consultation, how they say goodbye to one another at the entrance. Unemotional on the surface, observant viewers will detect that Jenny is a physician who cares deeply for the lives around her. Calls from patients are always urgent. Laboratory results are relayed right away.

A movie like this will hardly appeal to the masses, especially those hoping to be entertained by stunning visual effects and loud, busy action. However, works like “La fille inconnue” have a better chance of standing the test of time because just as choices and emotions are raw, repercussions are dire and unflinching. Great dramas build suspense out of reality and we watch spellbound as the protagonist interacts with people who may know a lot more than they let on initially. The material is unafraid to show complex people just as they are, how ugly and beautiful we can be to one another; it allows us to consider being more aware, more present, of our surroundings and how we interact with it.

12 replies »

      • I just looked them up, and I’ve seen Lorna’s Silence, The Child, and The Kid with the Bike. All great films. So, I should like this one, as well.

          • I liked the girl who starred in The Child; she was also in “The Page Turner” that I thought was great. highly recommend if you haven’t seen that one. I think you’d like it.

  1. i’m not sure what else they have done, but I see it’s on netflix so i plan to watch soon. i only read the beginning of your review as I like to go in cold. you gave 4-stars so I expect big things!! lol. :)

    • I hope you find value in it. (Not “like it” because, well, their movies are not meant to be entertaining in the usual sense; they are meant to be realistic.) They have better movies. I will be happy to recommend them, should you choose to look more into their filmography.

  2. Watched it earlier today and thought it was really good. I just like the simplicity of these types of films, and i think it’s awesome to see a film that doesn’t rely on scores to manipulate the emotions of the viewer. I love listening to a great score soundtrack, but sometimes those scores amplify the moment in a way that makes it feel bigger than it really is; but here you don’t need it to feel what the doctor is feeling. i was surprised when she turned down the higher-paying job to stay at the smaller practice, and once she did that you really got a good idea of her character; she even started sleeping at the office to be available around the clock. She’s the type of character to get behind…

    Hollywood needs to learn this is how you portray a strong woman; she doesn’t need to say “I’m a strong woman”, she just is a strong woman, and she doesn’t need to tear down men or make any kind of forced political statement; that stuff is ruining the american film industry. I will see if I can find “The Son” you recommended; it’s not on netflix. It’s so weird that Hollywood is the world’s capital for filmmaking, and they control the industry and have all the money, power and influence, but yet the little countries that make low-budget films make the best films and tell the best stories.

    • I’m 100% with you on this. I love Dardenne brothers movies because they have a knack when it comes to presenting a situation and highlighting the drama behind it in a natural way. If you look on the right side of this page, under director quotes, the Dardennes say something about their use of sound. I love that quote from them and it perfectly sums up their technique.

      Yes! I’m glad you picked up on that salary scene. She’s such a compelling character and yet very believable, too. And I love that the film goes to show that being a doctor is not at all glamorous. Doctors I personally know are tired all the time, especially those with families. I love that we see that exhaustion in her entire being. And yet she presses on.

      Again, I’m also with you regarding Hollywood and it portrayal of “strong women.” Honestly, the way they are so blatant about having stereotypical strong women is getting annoying, one-note, boring. To me, they are doing it simply to lecture and sell tickets. I’m not entirely convinced the main purpose is to empower. Maybe I’m just cynical or something, but that’s how I feel about it lately.

      • Yeah, i scrolled down and read their quote; it’s true. I did notice the construction sounds, and the cars, traffic, etc. That becomes a character in itself. It sets the tone for the environment…

        No, you’re not being cynical at all. It’s absolutely true. Men love strong women, but the media portray the average man to hate women, or look down on them, which means the media and entertainment industry only promote figures who raise women up which is why you have films and shows like Batwoman and Captain Marvel, who instead of just allowing us to have some super heroes who happen to be a woman, which are embraced by men when the writing and story-telling is good, they need to cram it down the viewers throat that we’re watching a woman, as if the men watching don’t already know this. That’s why these movies/shows are flopping b/c they’re way too on-the-nose like a TBS sitcom. lol.

        Too bad the Batwoman series is such drivel b/c if the writing was right, Ruby Rose would make an excellent Batwoman; she was really good in John Wick 2; she did her job and made me hate her and want John to take her out. And I remember the terminator in T3 was a woman, and I thought she was vicious. T3 gets such a bad rap b/c it paled in comparison to T2, but it actually was pretty good; it just wasn’t a masterpiece like T2. But the Terminator cyborg in T3 was well fleshed-out in my opinion. I thought the woman was great in the role; point being, men like strong women characters. This media hype is non-sense.

      • You owe me $1 per view!! lol. No, that’s fine. When you post on a public forum, it’s fair game. I’m glad you got something from the comment. :)

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