The Unknown Girl (2016) | La Fille Inconnue | Cannes Film Festival | In competition 2016

November 30th, 2016
Author: Meredith Taylor

Directors: The Dardennes Brothers

Cast: Adèle Hanael | Jeremie Renier | Olivier Gourmet | Fabrizio Rongione |

117min | Belgium | Drama

One wonders if the Dardennes brothers are still living in the real world with this low-key Belgian crime drama which feels stuck in the 1970s. It follows the daily life of a young GP who makes round the clock personal visits to her patients and harshly admonishes her practice intern for his lack of emotional detachment before reacting with guilt and tearful outbursts when a total stranger calls at the surgery after hours, and subsequently winds up dead.

The Dardennes’ 10th feature is a slow-burning procedural drama set in modern Liège where a solid cast perform a dreary tale of social realism amid unremitting gloom. This is not the Belgian city of frothy chocolate drinks and buttery waffles, but one of drugs and the dejected.

Hanael plays the bossy and humourless Jenny who takes great care of her patients but comes up against her intern Julien who decides to leave the medical world for good after a mild contretemps with Adèle Hanael’s good doctor. Matters take a turn for the worst when the police arrive to investigate the death of a young black girl who attempted to gain access to the surgery, just as it is closing (we feel her pain). Jenny is fraught with guilt at the incident and turns passive aggressive on several of her patients as she begins a freelance investigation into the possible murder.

For the first part of the two hour running time the film unspools in intimate close-up shots in the confines of the surgery and various domestic locations – as Jenny attempts to juggle her worthy medical activities (examining her patients’ seeping wounds, foot ulcers, stools and vomiting)- but eventually the ‘murder investigation’ takes complete hold of her and widens out into the environs of a wintery Liège where she is unable to let go of the stranger’s destiny for a predictable conclusion in the Dardennes’ trademark elliptical style.

The Dardennes Brothers have a legendary history of social realist filmmaking with successes at Cannes Film Festival winning the Palme D’Or for The Child and Rosetta and gongs for The Kid with a Bike, The Silence of Lorna amongst others. This is their least enjoyable film to date, but will no doubt appeal to ardent fans of their particular pared-down brand of realism. MT



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