La fille inconnue [The Unknown Girl] (2016)

La fille inconnue
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Writer: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Cast: Adèle Haenel,Olivier BonnaudLouka Minnella, Jérémie Renier, Christelle Cornil, Nadège Ouedraogo, Olivier Gourmet, Fabrizio Rongione, Thomas Doret, Marc Zinga
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 28.10.2016

Jenny (Adèle Haenel) runs a clinic in a rather poor area of town that she just took over from a now retired doctor. She’s the only doctor in the clinic and does her best,but also knows that she has to fight for her boundaries. So when the bell to her clinic is rung shortly after closing time, she ignores it, despite being still there. The next day, police show up at the clinic, informing her that they found the body of a dead young woman and they don’t know who she is. But it appears that it was her who rung the bell. Jenny is shocked and becomes obsessed with finding out who the woman was and what happened to her.

La fille inconnue was the perfect Double Feature with I, Daniel Blake. Like that film, it’s sociopolitical cinema that wears its heart on its sleeve and is absolutely (emotionally) engaging.

If you look at it from a distance, there’s not much that happens in La fille inconnue. No big plot developments or grand discoveries. Nevertheless, the Dardenne brothers manage to build the tension of the film and there wasn’t a second my attention to the proceedings lagged. Even after it was clear who the culprit was (which to me was sooner, probably, than they intended).

My interest in the film is not just because of the story or the impeccable cast (Haenel above all, of course, but also the supporting characters), but because it tackles a dilemma that all people who work in a social setting (a field I’ve not yet completely entered but I’m on my way) probably know very well: the question of where to draw your own boundaries. How long can you lend support and when is the point where you have to put yourself first and take care of yourself, even when that could be to the detriment of your clients?

The film shows Jenny caught in those questions and trying to navigate that path. But when it becomes clear that nobody really cares about the girl and nobody will actually investigate who she is, Jenny basically is forced to become obsessed with finding out the girl’s identity.

Unfortunately, here the film’s only major misstep comes into play. Because it maybe called “The Unknown Girl” but it’s not about her at all, if you look at it more closely. It’s all about Jenny and her struggle to make a “Known” out of the “Unknown”. I would have liked it had the film focused more on the actual victim in the film and her story and perspective.

Towards the end, there are beginnings of that. And the end was the strongest part of the film, beautiful and conciliatory – probably also because of that – slight – shift in perspective.

Summarizing: Very much worth it.

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