Sunday, December 10, 2017

DVDebut for the latest Dardenne brothers' moral exploration, THE UNKNOWN GIRL

Yet another moving and detailed exploration of guilt, caring and the acceptance of responsibility from film-making's most humane, dedicated and talented brother teams, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes (pictured below, with Luc on the right), THE UNKNOWN GIRL (La fille inconnue) proves one of the siblings' most intensely interesting and meaningful provocations.

In it, a young doctor named Jenny Davin tells her intern not to answer the downstairs buzzer (which is rung only once) because it is long past closing time and this does not appear to be any emergency. The following day the police arrive and ask for the security videotape from outside the building. Jenny soon learns that the young woman who rang the buzzer is now dead, found earlier that day across the street with a very bad dent in her head.

Many people these days would simply shrug this event off with a "too bad for her but not my fault" response. But our good doctor does a bit more than that. It is clear from the start of this film that Jenny, played with a quiet determination that bespeaks deep reserves of caring and commitment by the fine French actress Adèle Haenel (below, and on poster, top), is not about to let this mistake of hers go uncorrected. She cannot bring the girl back from the dead nor, she suspects, even solve this crime (if indeed it was a crime; it might have been something of an accident).

Yet the idea of allowing the dead girl to remain unknown (the police have no clue as to who she was), and thus not being able to inform any family of what happened, proves so troubling to Jenny that she begins her own, very determined investigation. This takes her into quite uncharted territory, especially for a young, caring doctor more used to dealing with sick patients that with what eventually becomes some fairly dark family matters that involve the local police (below), prostitution, and perhaps sex trafficking.

In some ways the film bears comparison to the Dardennes' earlier (and weaker) movie, Lorna's Silence, but it is better in every way, thanks to the conception of Jenny's character and the strength and specificity brought to this by Ms Haenel's performance. And though the film comes close to these dark subjects mentioned above, it remains less a suspense piece or mystery than it does a surprisingly rich study of character(s) under pressure

We are also given a deeper and more profound sense of the town that Jenny and her patients inhabit via some lovely, moving scenes with people of both sexes and various ages. As we meet and become involved with these supporting characters -- above and below -- their own guilt and responsibility is (or is not) slowly uncovered, as well.

How these people respond to Jenny's pushing -- in ways both good and bad but always believable -- may remind you of the Dardennes' recent endeavor, Two Days, One Night. The Unknown Girl, I think, is an equally strong film. It deals, in its own sidelong manner, as does so much of the brothers' work, with immigration and "the other," and with justice and its untimely-if-ever delivery.

Performances are quite real, in the Dardennes' usual documentary style, in which Ms Haenel's work fits like a glove, with an unrecognizable (to TrustMovies, at least) but terrific Dardennes regular, Jérémie Renier, fine as always in the role of the fraught father (shown above, left) of one of the doctor's young patents. Especially lovely, too, is the job done by newcomer Olivier Bonnaud, below, right, who plays that young intern with family/career problems of his own

If you respond, as did I, to the importance of Jenny's search -- during an era in which so much responsibility has been shirked off, if not downright forgotten or deliberately undermined by the corporations and the wealthy who control the crap politicians throughout more and more of our world -- this single act of assuming responsibility will take on enormous importance. It should. And thanks to the Dardennes and Ms Haenel, it is brought to quivering, sad-but-still-glowing life.

From Sundance Selects/IFC Films, The Unknown Girl hits DVD this coming Tuesday, December 12, for purchase or rental. And it's now available for streaming via Netflix.

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