Critics out of Cannes labeled Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Unknown Girl “a lesser work.” If that’s the case, it just proves that the brothers are among the finest working directors. The film, another tale of proletariat moralism—one of the Dardennes’ favorite subjects—follows Doctor Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) on her quest to find the identity of a recently deceased woman whom she could have saved. The Dardennes’ previous film, Two Days, One Night, quickly comes to mind: Davin goes from person to person and finds new leads directing her on where to go next, often looping back to the same people and being sent on wild goose chases. This part of the film works especially well, with each new character giving enough humanistic insight to make the mystery at The Unknown Girl‘s center that much more pressing to resolve. The only misstep comes at the end, as the film gestures for an emotional arc it hasn’t fully developed: two different character’s go through changes, and it feels hurried. But apart from the rushed ending, there’s plenty here to recommend. Haenel is a formidable presence as the troubled doctor, and the Dardennes’s eye for tension born from grounded realism remains. Overall, it’s a pleasure to watch as the directors continue to explore their signature talents, even when they’re not bringing their A-game.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 2.