“The Unknown Girl” is an imperfect but absorbing addition to the Dardennes’ canon, a carefully plotted thriller of conscience in which a doctor spends most of the movie atoning for her mistake.
When we first meet Jenny Davin (Adele Haenel), the smart, uncompromising young doctor who occupies every frame of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “The Unknown Girl,” she is seeing a patient at the end of a long day at her clinic. A routine examination is interrupted by a sudden emergency in the waiting room. After the crisis is averted and the last of the patients have gone home, Jenny and her intern (Olivier Bonnaud) are tired, frustrated and on each other’s last nerves.
When the door buzzes, she orders him not to answer it. One of the lessons of the Dardenne brothers’ stirringly humane working-class dramas is that even the smallest lapses in judgment can have unpredictable, often shattering consequences.
‘The Unknown Girl,’ with Adele Haenel, Olivier Bonnaud. Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. 106 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French, with English subtitles. Varsity.The Los Angeles Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
Sure enough, a police detective comes around the next morning with news that an unidentified young woman has been found dead on a nearby riverbank. Surveillance footage confirms that she frantically pressed the buzzer and, when no one answered, ran off toward her untimely death.
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“If I’d opened the door, she’d still be alive,” Jenny says. While no one blames her, the doctor feels a deep sense of personal responsibility and becomes determined to learn the dead girl’s name.
“The Unknown Girl” is an imperfect but absorbing addition to the Dardennes’ canon (“The Son,” “Rosetta,” “L’Enfant”), a carefully plotted thriller of conscience in which Jenny spends most of the movie patiently and persistently atoning for her mistake.
Forcing their usual ethical query into the structure of a whodunit, the Dardennes have emerged with a narrative that, as compelling as it is, can also feel prosaic and even a bit predictable, especially in the melodrama of the closing scenes.