The Unknown Girl is a Belgian-French drama directed by the Dardenne brothers and stars Adele Haenel. It centres around Jenny Davin, a doctor who runs her own practice in a small Belgian town. One night she receives a buzz on her door after hours and decides not to answer it. The next day the police question her over the suspected murder of a young girl who is revealed to be the same one that buzzed Jenny’s door the previous night. Driven by guilt, she starts an investigation of her own and sets out to identify the woman for the sake of her family.
The core story of this film is a strong one that explores the themes of guilt and responsibility. Jenny is a sympathetic character who is developed well over the film. The directors put a lot of time into subtly showing the different aspects of her character in a very humanising way. We see how she is selfless and puts her own needs second, but also how she becomes tired of people and does things out of spite when in a bad mood. This adds layers to her character that prevent her from ever becoming intangibly altruistic and keep her as a real human being. And in this lies the main strength of the film; its realism. The film feels more like an exploration of a day in the life of a hard-working doctor, as opposed to a cinematic narrative.
Haenel plays this character perfectly and carries the entire film on the back of her performance. Due to the minimal style of the direction, it comes down to Haenel’s acting to draw us in and she does so very effectively. It is a very subtle and subdued performance that has moments of intense emotion which, due to the slower style of the film, pack a huge punch for the viewer.
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