The Unknown Girl Screen 71 of 23 reviews

The Unknown Girl

2016

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  • The Dardenne Brothers return with this expressive, visceral realist mystery... The Dardennes' mise en scène, carefully composed yet open, is rendered in the fluid handheld style of their longtime cinematographer, the great Alain Marcoen. Actors, directors, cameraman: all seem to be in a process of mutual discovery, catching real life as it unfolds.

  • Far from being a lesser Dardenne effort, this dour semigenre film about obdurate, callous people with something to hide is one of their best. The film’s genre trappings as dead-girl mystery have led the Dardennes to bore deeper into their milieu. Dr. Davin does not appear to have friends or family. People in the film isolate themselves in phone booths in a cybercafé. Nobody likes to talk, and when they do, it’s to make threats.

  • Jenny's coolness is part of what is valued about her; her earnest attention to rules is how she demonstrates care. This complexity is given full expression by Haenel’s subtle performance, which delicately expresses Jenny’s smallest flickers of concern, fear or pleasure, and gradually turns an initially unprepossessing character into a figure of intense sympathy.

  • One exceptional choice is the Dardenne Brothers’ The Unknown Girl, which a significant proportion of critics at Cannes found relatively unimportant in the context of their full body of work. I respectfully disagree. It’s more of a departure, away from the usual secular sites of the talented siblings’ world of proles and lower-middle parvenu. Viewing this film, in tandem with The Ornithologist, through a metaphysical filter yields a richer, more complete read.

  • Jenny's selfless dedication to helping others makes her less a main character than a trusted guide to yet another Dardennes gallery of beleaguered characters who struggle to maintain their dignity and do the right thing in a world that often makes that next to impossible. As always in the brothers’ films, that world is short on frills and physical comforts, but it’s also beautiful and full of small graces, especially as seen through the loving eyes of a radical empath like the good doctor Jenny.

  • “The Unknown Girl,” the latest masterpiece by the Dardennes brothers, takes place in their native Belgium and concerns a young doctor trying to deal with both her own guilt and an unsolved mystery after a young African immigrant is killed near her office.

  • It is the organic strength of these sentiments, coupled with the unwavering resolve of the filmmakers—mirroring their own protagonist in their refusal to disengage from doing what they know how to do best—which closes the debate in the film's favor. Even a maculate film by the Dardennes can be recalibrated as a valuable work of art,

  • A reliably strong film that continues the ethical explorations of their earlier films, La Fille inconnue nonetheless lacks the emotional punch that capped its predecessor, and will go down as a relatively inconsequential addition to the Dardennes’ work.

  • This is no conventional policier but a carefully constructed realist drama about a faintly naive but very decent young woman trying to make amends for what she regards as a dreadful mistake and to bring the truth – whatever it may be – to light. Adèle Haenel’s lead performance is as subtle and restrained as the direction.

  • This may be one of the Dardennes’ most spiritual works in some time, suggesting an almost mystical dimension to guilt. When one character, late in the film, protests Jenny's efforts by saying of the unknown girl that “she doesn’t care, she's dead," our heroine's response is striking: "If she was dead, she wouldn’t be in our heads.” At the same time, it's not as shattering as some of their other works.

  • One of the great things that Haenel achieves in this film is to convey a sense of Jenny’s seriousness, moral and professional, reminding us that the way to reveal a character’s complexity is not to concoct an overtly complex performance. This is some of the best acting we’ve seen in Cannes this year... Her performance very much determines the register of the film, which is pitch-perfect until, alas, another actor somewhat throws the pitch out of whack by over-emoting in [the] conclusion...

  • What’s missing, however, from this stoically humane procedural tale of a guilt-racked GP investigating a nameless passer-by’s passing, is any great sense of narrative or emotional surprise: It’s a film that skilfully makes us feel precisely what we expect to feel from moment to moment, up to and including the long-forestalled waterworks.

  • Ultimately, "The Unknown Girl" falls short of deepening its subject matter. The Dardennes establish an intriguing heroine and then pigeonhole her with white liberal guilt. As always, though, that's the essence of these distinctive filmmakers, and even in this case they demonstrate a unique penchant for recognizing the reality at the root of that cliché.

  • The story itself is too intimate, cleaving closely to a small ensemble of side-players and finding resolution too quickly and comfortably. And yet, this still has richness and depth in abundance, proving that even when the brothers’ are slightly off their game, they’re still superior to most out there.

  • The moral conundrum is laid out unusually baldly in this tale of Adele Haenel, dedicated doctor and Girl Detective, rushing around at the usual frantic Dardennes pace making phone calls, answering doorbells and figuring stuff out - but the urgency feels increasingly hollow this time, driven only by the next bit of plot, and when people finally reveal themselves they do it through confessional speeches, not significant actions like in the Brothers' best movies.

  • Unknown Girl, although driven by another standout female performance (this time from Adèle Haenel), seems like a more minor contribution to their corpus. The new film, an attempt at the murder mystery genre, feels rather schematic and closed-off where the Dardennes' films normally provide ample space for moral ambiguity and possibility. It also contains at least one crucial scene (maybe two) that clumsily undermines the effectiveness of much of what's preceded it (or them).

  • Although Haenel’s portrayal is never less than brilliantly self-assured, the fact that the unknown victim referenced in the title remains a tabula rasa ensures that the film is rarely more than a somewhat rote exercise in liberal self-flagellation. Dr. Davin’s dedication to both her medical practice and the lives of her forlorn patients make her something of a secular saint, but the film’s cathartic twists are less well-earned than the culminating moments in the brothers’ best work.

  • The strengths of a proper mystery film prove to be outside the filmmakers' command, as The Unknown Girl proceeds dutifully, resolving its case as expected, with only some diverting character work from Dardenne regulars like Jérémie Renier and Olivier Gourmet, both in minor roles, to give the proceedings some dramatic energy.

  • These emotions demand urgency, and the idea a fiercely inquisitive dynamism, both crucially missing from The Unknown Girl. It’s as if the film has accepted the least interesting side of genre—the predictability—without embracing what makes its conventions so thrilling to watch again and again: the electric play, in form and story, with what the audience expects.

  • Cannes favorites Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne bring The Unknown Girl, an earnest but lukewarm picture about a doctor who becomes obsessed with solving the mystery behind the death of a young African immigrant.

  • It seemed like the Belgian brothers were incapable of failure. Enter The Unknown Girl, which a charitable viewer might describe as the Dardennes on auto-pilot... The plot is entirely predicated on the kind of contrived coincidences that any screenwriting 101 professor would urge against, persistently dispelling the film’s realism.

  • There are multiple references to Jenny also having yelled at the intern for freezing but the Dardennes skip past this seemingly crucial moment, almost certainly because they realized that showing it would make the contours of their design too obvious. It’s still pretty obvious, though... An admirably humanistic outlook, to be sure, but the Dardennes usually demonstrate a lighter touch with their grace.

  • The represents a rupture in the Dardennes' ordinarily solid output, a work so left-footed and clumsily insistent that it exposes the worst aspects inherent to their style. The film's didacticism is evident from the outset.

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