The Unknown Girl review – a rare misfire from the Dardenne brothers

The Dardenne brothers’ new film, The Unknown Girl (unveiled at Cannes earlier this year), makes its UK appearance in a new edit, with six minutes cut from the running time. The new version can make no real difference to its fundamental problems: a bafflingly inert, undirected performance from Adèle Haenel and a borderline ridiculous detective story narrative, in which minor characters are laboriously wrangled on and off screen to tell Haenel important things. The movie is at its most effective in the opening five minutes: stressed GP Dr Jenny Gavin (Haenel) is giving her intern, Julien (Olivier Bonnaud), a harsh telling-off at the end of a long day, after surgery hours, and so ignores a door buzzer going off. Later, she is told by the police that this was a young African woman in a desperate state who was later found dead; if Dr Gavin had answered her call, she might still be alive. Stricken with guilt, she then makes it her business to find out who this woman was – as a doctor, she has a kind of carte blanche to go around asking questions. This detective routine is sometimes ingenious: taking a pulse while casually making inquiries is a good lie-detector test. But Haenel’s blank, slightly bug-eyed solemnity gives no sense of her inner life; the parade of minor figures is mostly implausible, and the climactic revelation is melodramatic and unsatisfying. A minor misfire from these major film-makers.

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