Following a rather muted response at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne re-cut the film by 7 minutes leading up to its theatrical release in France. With an aim to fix pacing complaints that many of the critics who covered the film at Cannes complained about, the new cut of The Unknown Girl is truly one of the best films to have been released all year long.
The tenth feature from the acclaimed Belgian duo follows Jenny Davin, a young French doctor played marvelously by Adèle Haenel (House of Tolerance). One night while still getting work done at the office an hour after closing with her intern (played by Olivier Bonnaud in his debut role), someone unexpectedly rings the doorbell. As Jenny’s intern, Julien goes to check who’s at the door, she quickly demands that it’s far too late to let anyone in, as the two are just about finished up in the office.
Upon returning to the office the following morning, Jenny is met by two officers asking to see her security tapes from the previous night after a woman was found dead earlier that morning across the way. After realizing this was the same person who was knocking on the door the night before, an immense wave of guilt begins to immediately wash over Jenny. After the police struggle to identify the woman, our protagonist slowly descends into a detective, as she tries to determine the identity of this unknown woman.
The Dardennes slowly shift the tone of the film from this slice-of-life narrative of a doctor ‘s everyday routine into a faux noir. Seeing the directing duo work through the confines of a noir just by itself makes for a compelling watch, but the pair manages to pull off this tonal switch with such grace that it’s almost baffling how successful The Unknown Girl ends up being.