Starring: Adèle Haenel, Olivier Bonnaud, Jérémie Renier
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Running Time: 113 mins
The Unknown Girl (La fille inconnue) is a Belgian film about a doctor who becomes obsessed with the dark mystery of a young woman who died shortly after ringing her front door for help.
You’re always in for something slow and quiet with the Dardennes, but that’s not where The Unknown Girl falls down. In fact, it’s a film with a surprisingly intense story, but there’s never really the same level of intense emotion in the characters to make it a powerful and truly engrossing watch.
Let’s start on the plus side, however, with the crime/mystery side of the plot. Mixed in with social commentaries about the trials of modern life, the mystery here is actually pretty clear cut. Following a woman haunted by a sense of guilt and confusion after seeing footage of the young woman minutes before her death at her own front door, it’s a clear story from start to finish to find out what really happened that night.
That side of the plot is actually very interesting, and it takes both our main character, as well as a series of other supporting players, all of whom appear to be innocent and normal members of society, to some really dark and dangerous places, bringing an impressive level of fear and grit to the crime side of the story that I really didn’t see coming.
Another plus is that this film isn’t an excessively mopey or soul-destroying affair like my personal favourite of the Dardennes, Two Days, One Night. It’s by no means upbeat, but the majority of the drama here comes from the crime side of the story, and there’s always some great intrigue and unpredictability there to keep you engaged.
However, I still felt that this film could have done with a little more depressing drama. The visual style throughout really suits it, and the one chink in the armour of the mystery story is that it’s not an edge-of-your-seat and nail-biting drama, largely due to the fact that our main character isn’t that interesting.
The events themselves are engaging and unpredictable, but for me, this film really needed to show a lot more on the emotional side when it came to this woman’s quest for answers to this case. She’s not a police officer, nor a private investigator, but just an ordinary person. As a result, I couldn’t get on board with the idea that it’s only intrigue that drives her investigation in this story, and I really felt that the side of her character that centres on feelings of guilt at the lasting image of a young woman banging on her front door for help that never came should have been the main focus of her quest throughout.
However, because it’s a film that generally focuses on the mystery in a slightly less emotional light meant that there just wasn’t the same resonance as I felt was the objective here. The lead performance from Adèle Haenel is decent throughout, and captures the character’s social position well, but she never really managed to win me over on the emotional side of things, and that’s why I really felt that there was a big, gaping hole of pure drama in this film.
Overall, I was intrigued by The Unknown Girl. As a pure crime mystery, it does its job well at providing an unpredictable, intense and often very dark story. However, the Dardennes’ intentions are clearly more here, but the emotional resonance in this film is so underwhelming that it makes for a very frustrating watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving this a 6.8.