2016, Movies

The Unknown Girl (2016, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)

This is one of those European “social realist” dramas that are extremely deliberately paced, feature no score and alienate a lot of North Americans because it feels like “nothing happens.” (Par for the course: there were plenty of walk-outs.) It’s unfortunate that so many of us over here feel like a film about a death could feel like “nothing happens,” but such is the divide between the heavily plotted American films we see all the time, and many smaller European films.

On the whole, I really liked this: we get a portrait of an ambitious young doctor who makes a poor choice and, coupled with the sudden departure of her internist, feels like she needs to devote herself anew to her job, by abandoning her ambition and dedicating her time to discovering the identity of the titular girl. Because of the deliberate pace and the focus on the minutiae of her daily life, when the little action comes, it is always shocking. This is always something I appreciate. And I was thinking this was a rather masterful example of this kind of style until the end.


It is the end that I struggle with this morning. To me, this is a very Catholic film: everyone wants to confess, everyone wants to unburden themselves. I don’t know that I agree. So when the manslaughter confession comes, not only is it an anti-climax (that part I don’t mind), but it feels unnatural and a bit of a deus ex machina. As does the follow up confession when Darvin discovers the identity of the titular girl. I mean, maybe we’re supposed to believe that this is just something that happens when someone shows to the world they care more than the police. I don’t know. But it feels off.

So I really liked it until the end. But I cannot get over that ending.


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