The Belgian writer-director brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes are among my very favorite filmmakers. Their movies about everyday people in gritty industrial Belgium have been startlingly authentic and emotionally gripping. However, their latest, The Unknown Girl, is a bit of a slog.
In The Unknown Girl, a compassionate and hardworking doctor (Adèle Haenel) is working late and doesn’t answer the office doorbell after hours. It turns out that a young woman had been trying to get inside just before she was murdered. The cops can’t even identify the victim. The doc is wracked with guilt and embarks on a quest to identify the young woman and to solve the crime.
So this is a murder mystery – the closest thing ever to a Dardennes brothers genre movie. Unfortunately the deliberate, real-time pace that intensifies the emotional experience of the Dardennes’ other work just drags in The Unknown Girl. And there are just one or two coincidences in the plot to swallow.
Adèle Haenel (recently so good in In the Name of My Daughter) is excellent and the best thing about the film. She’s in every scene and portrays a driven and remarkably self-aware character, who often intentionally suppresses her emotions to do the best job possible for her patients.
This isn’t a bad movie, just not a spectacularly good one. By all means, see a Dardennes film, just make it The Son or The Kid with a Bike.