Just after seeing this movie, I read that directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne had originally intended to make this film with Marion Cotillard but it didn’t work so they made Two Days, One Night with her instead.
And intriguingly, having had two years to sort out The Unknown Girl, the two films have so many similarities it makes me wonder why they didn’t abandon the idea completely – this latest film is definitely the weaker and contains some contrivances which I struggled to accept.
Adèle Haenel plays earnest doctor Jenny Davin who is plagued by guilt when she learns that she failed to open her door to a young woman who is then found to have died nearby. This guilt drives her to seek the girl’s identity, presumably in an attempt to atone for her earlier (in)action.
For some reason, her position as doctor allows her to begin her own private investigation, and so she sets off door to door (I swear, some of the very same doors that Madame Cotillard knocked on) to seek answers. Quite how she has time to do this given her long list of patients and no receptionist to even check the patients through the door for her is not explained. Neither is the presence of her intern. At the start it feels like he – or their relationship – will have some importance, but his thread later in the storyline seems to have little purpose – it certainly doesn’t explain why Dr Davin behaves as she did, although I suspect this was the intention.
Not to be too down on The Unknown Girl; there are definitely some very interesting and tantalising thoughts bubbling below the surface. There are strains of an examination of class, given Jenny’s choice of work environment. There are the beginnings of a look at immigration or race relations in modern-day Belgium, and perhaps even a question as to how the police respond to these. And there are a couple of lovely moments of generosity of spirit, reminding us that most people are genuinely good and are just trying to get on with their lives.
But being honest, the film lacked the bite of the Dardennes’ previous release, and the similarities only serve to underline this.
A version of this post first appeared on www.filmdispenser.com