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Joel Mayward

La Fille Inconnue / The Unknown Girl (2016)

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Adele Haenel is the lead in the Dardennes brothers' next film. The synopsis from the article:

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Production company Les Films Du Fleuve has announced that the sibling directors have tapped Haenel to lead their next film, "La fille Inconnue" ("The Unknown Girl"). She'll take the role of Jenny, a young doctor who feels guilty after a young woman she refused to see winds up dead a few days later. She then decides to find out who the girl was, after the police can't identify the young woman.

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A few reviews coming from Cannes. Sounds like this may be a "lesser" Dardennes film, but they're still my favorite European filmmakers working today, so I'll be seeking it out when it arrives in the States:

Variety (Guy Lodge):

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In Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s very best films, you know exactly what you’re getting — until the quiet dramatic pivot that gently ensures you don’t. In “The Unknown Girl,” only the first half of that assessment is true, though what we get is largely exemplary: a simple but urgent objective threaded with needling observations of social imbalance, a camera that gazes with steady intent into story-bearing faces, and an especially riveting example of one in their gifted, toughly tranquil leading lady Adèle Haenel. What’s missing, however, from this stoically humane procedural tale of a guilt-racked GP investigating a nameless passer-by’s passing, is any great sense of narrative or emotional surprise: It’s a film that skilfully makes us feel precisely what we expect to feel from moment to moment, up to and including the long-forestalled waterworks. Though it will receive the broad distribution practically guaranteed the Belgian brothers’ work these days, the film is unlikely to prove one of their sensations — more the healthy arthouse equivalent of a biennial checkup.

Indiewire (Eric Kohn):

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"The Unknown Girl" combines its naturalistic direction with a strong lead performance and topicality, although these ingredients are hobbled by their familiarity. Like 2014's "Two Days, One Night," the new movie focuses on the real-time challenges of a driven young woman venturing from place to place in search of answers from a community divided against itself; as with "The Son," the death of one character animates the guilty conscience of another one; as with "Lorna's Silence," a criminal threat is used to address lower class struggles. The similarities go on and on.

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw):

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The Unknown Girl, has moments of insight, flashes of perception. But it is not their best work, and very far from the heights achieved in 2014 with their blistering workplace picture Two Days, One Night. The Unknown Woman is an odd, dramatically stilted and passionless quasi-procedural concerning a mysterious death; it depends on a series of unconvincing, and in fact borderline-preposterous, encounters and features a bafflingly inert performance from Adèle Haenel, whose usual spark appears to have been doused by self-consciousness.

Sight & Sound (Jonathan Romney):

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The film thus becomes a detective story of sorts – the Dardennes’ first, although like their last title, 2014’s Two Days, One Night, it’s also a female-led quest narrative with a sense of ticking-time urgency (albeit without that movie’s strict deadline).

There are also echoes of Hitchcock’s I Confess in terms of the question of secrecy and the transference of guilt. Jenny is bound by professional protocol, so anything that a patient might tell her must remain secret; but we also become aware that she’s breaching the codes of professional conduct by pushing her patients for information quite as insistently as she does. The film is very much an inquiry into the conflict between personal responsibility for others (a recurring Dardennes theme) and the matter of social codes and protocol. But, Jenny says at one point, she’s not interested in anyone else’s guilt: the guilt is entirely hers for letting the girl die.

As usual with Dardennes films, what makes the film work so beautifully is what’s taken out rather than kept in: there’s a startling moment when Jenny confronts a person who knows a great deal about the case, but we aren’t told exactly what led her to him in the first place. It’s also a film about restriction: like the filmmakers’ other characters, Jenny inhabits a very small world. She seems to have little social contact, and the detachment that goes toward making her a good doctor leaves her somewhat isolated: the point is never stressed, but viewers might detect a quiet poignancy to the sight of her preparing tomatoes in her flat above the surgery, where she sleeps among filing boxes and other work materials.

 

Edited by Joel Mayward

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Link to our TIFF 2016 thread, where this film has been discussed.

The version currently making the rounds is seven minutes shorter than the version that played at Cannes.

FWIW, I liked the film but found it a bit repetitive -- it kept circling back to certain characters -- and I wasn't entirely prepared to believe that *so many* characters would be ready to end their lives and/or careers over the incident that gets the movie's plot going.

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Darren H   

The A&F old-timers will probably appreciate this better than most people in my life. I'm pretty pleased with this photo! The interview will be published to coincide with the US release early next year.

dardennes.jpg

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It's brilliant.

SDG — I have a feeling that you, in particular, are going to love this one. 

Halfway through, it felt like "minor Dardennes," if there is such a thing. By the conclusion, I had changed my mind about that.

Here are some notes I posted on Letterboxd:

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Or, Diary of an Urban Priest.

Doctor Davin becomes one of the most inspiring champions of conscience and hands-on healing in all of cinema. In what may be the Dardennes' most Bressonian film, there is power in this priestess's humble hands, whether she is listening to someone's troubled lungs, holding someone as they bow their heavy head, or receiving their confession.

Embracing a style even more spare than usual, the Dardennes seem to pull back from their tendency toward subtle but poetic composition and symbology. Here, it's all about the gestures.

It's also something of a Dardenne brothers all-star reunion party. While  Adèle Haenel is a commanding presence, speaking volumes with her expressive eyes and her tendency to take strike the pose of a Marian icon, the supporting cast is almost distractingly familiar. Olivier Gourmet is frightening. Jérémie Renier is another walking case of human wreckage. Thomas Doret and Morgan Marinne show up as well (and look, they're all grown up!)

Concluding on one of the most tender and beautiful moments in recent cinema, this is one I look forward to revisiting. It feels a little long; the first half of the movie has a certain meandering quality, taking a long time to set the stage for the intense, suspenseful turns of the second half. It is here that I missed the more complex and poetic compositions of the Dardennes' earlier films (especially The Son). But things slowly come to a boil, one that leaves me in that familiar Dardenne-movie state of emotional exhaustion and exhilaration by the end.

Magnificent.

 

 

Edited by Overstreet

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Ah! I'd missed that. Thanks!

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Still waiting for August 25th.  There is no way the Dardenne brothers should have to wait this long to get a U.S. release.

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The US trailer is finally here.

The film *finally* releases on September 8, only a few days after I leave the US to move to St Andrews to study the films of the Dardennes. Initially I found that frustrating, but the film has been available on Blu-ray in Europe for quite a while now, so I'll just have to watch it in that format.

On 10/16/2016 at 7:47 PM, Darren H said:

The interview will be published to coincide with the US release early next year.

Darren, is your interview still going to be published to coincide with the release?

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Brian D   

Wow, Joel, you're moving to study the films of the Dardennes? Sounds like a dream opportunity.  How long will you be there?

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I'm in the PhD programme at the University of St Andrews in the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts. It's a three-year programme, so that's my goal--get the PhD in three years, then come back to the US to teach. You can read a longer version of our family's story here.

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This interview is so good, Darren. Thanks so much. I love what they say about not looking down on their characters from above.

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Darren H   

Thanks, Jeffrey. It's funny that you mention that particular line because I'm not sure that I totally believe it. Even when Jean-Pierre said it, it felt rote compared with the rest of our conversation -- like it was an idea that they were committed to and liked to mention to interviewers. I can imagine them trying to take that stance as writers, but everything about their production model is so measured and controlled. I think they pull more strings than they're willing to admit. 

My favorite part of the interview is when I pressed them on their expressionist style. Luc is much more chatty and he rambled for a while around the question. Then there was a pause and Jean-Pierre broke their pattern (they always take turns answering questions) to add, "It’s true. [pause] We do try to pick primary colors. We liked to see Jenny dressed in blue and burgundy." I'm weirdly proud of getting that out of him. Critics seldom talk about their films in that way, and the two of them never do.

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Excerpts from this interview will likely end up in my PhD dissertation, fwiw. Especially the parts about moral psychosis and responsibility, and the final line about the unknown girl traveling into the audience's mind.

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Evan C   

It finally played in Indiana. Anyway, I thought it was phenomenal, right up to the denouement, which on this viewing came across as sloppy. It seemed to me that this is a story about one small personal failing which leads into a larger, systematic societal failing of the same nature, and the mystery is simply the catalyst to reveal the tragedy and injustice when we don't act as our brother's (or sister's) keeper. And as I said, I thought the film's handling of that theme and Jenny's persistence to right her mistake along those lines was absolutely phenomenal. But the actual resolution of the mystery seemed relatively unimportant compared to that, so when the film shifted gears to wrap up all the loose ends neatly, the first of the plot twists struck me as unnecessary and rather forced, even though I can absolutely the earlier elements it came from. The final confrontation which ends the film is hauntingly beautiful, and one of the Dardenne's best endings and final shots. A second viewing may change my mind on the handling of the resolution of the mystery, but right now I'm definitely not quite as in love with this as I was with Two Days, One Night or Kid with a Bike.

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I initially felt frustrated by the "reveal" as well, but I think that was less sloppy and more intentional on the Dardennes' part. They purposefully resist convention and tropes, though in a subtle and profound manner. If this is a detective thriller, one might expect a big chase or violent confrontation or twist surprise as to whodunit. In this case, it's a moment of confession, despair, and ultimately of hope and justice being done in a way which is unexpected and disorienting. Jenny's discovery of the person responsible for the girl's death doesn't come because Jenny is a great detective who puts together all the clues; it comes because Jenny persistently listens, and good listening reveals. The actual story as to what happened isn't nearly as sensational as the systemic injustice hinted at throughout the narrative (though that stuff is important too), and I think that's also intentional. And I agree about the ending; one of the Dardennes' best.

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7 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

 If this is a detective thriller, one might expect a big chase or violent confrontation or twist surprise as to whodunit. In this case, it's a moment of confession, despair, and ultimately of hope and justice being done in a way which is unexpected and disorienting. 

 

Hmmm, makes me want to hear Evan's comparison essay between this film and Murder on the Orient Express. 

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Evan C   

I never really thought this was a detective thriller at all. The film I was reminded of was Personal Shopper, in that both use a mystery as a catalyst/MacGuffin to reveal some other aspect of society and a trouble which is haunting the protagonist.

While I'm still not sure we needed every loose end of the mystery tied up, after thinking over it some more, I appreciate that the reveal is the gravest example of someone failing to act as their sister's keeper, which escalated with each of Jenny's interviews until that climax, so perhaps it's not as sloppy as I initially thought.

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Evan C wrote:
: . . .  the tragedy and injustice when we don't act as our brother's (or sister's) keeper.

It amazes me that people speak as though being someone's "keeper" is a good thing. In the original biblical context, it clearly isn't (or at least, the metaphor certainly wasn't intended that way).

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Evan C   
48 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Evan C wrote:
: . . .  the tragedy and injustice when we don't act as our brother's (or sister's) keeper.

It amazes me that people speak as though being someone's "keeper" is a good thing. In the original biblical context, it clearly isn't (or at least, the metaphor certainly wasn't intended that way).

At the risk of hijacking this thread, would you elaborate, because I was always taught the opposite. Cain failed to be Abel's keeper (or failed in his social responsibilities toward his brother.) This film is about similar failures (on a smaller scale) in how we ignore others' who need help when it might inconvenience us.

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Evan C wrote:
: Cain failed to be Abel's keeper . . .

But no one asked him to be Abel's "keeper". Think of a "zookeeper". A "keeper" is like a shepherd or a cattle rustler who controls the animals, keeps them penned in, forces them to go from here to there, etc. To be a "keeper" is to treat the person being kept as an animal, basically. So when God asks where Abel is and Cain -- not God, but Cain -- uses the word by saying, "Am I my brother's keeper?", he is sarcastically trying to dismiss God's query, and possibly taking a dig at Abel's chosen profession as well.

: . . .  (or failed in his social responsibilities toward his brother.)

I dunno, that's like saying God destroyed Sodom for its lack of hospitality to the angels. (Which is an argument that many people have made, in an effort to get as far away as possible from any implication that Sodom was destroyed for homosexuality. Me, I don't see why an attempted inter-species gang rape in Genesis 19 has to reflect badly on gay men as a whole, any more than the gang rape of a woman in Judges 19 reflects badly on straight men.)

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FWIW, the Hebrew root word for "keeper" is shamar, which has the various meanings of keeping an eye on, guarding, watching over, being careful or caring for, etc., such as "The  Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." So, while the greater sin involved in Genesis 3 is murder (just like the greater tragedy in in The Unknown Girl is the unnecessary death of the unknown girl), there is something in the story of Cain and Abel about responsibility for one's actions towards caring for others. Cain is being sarcastic or snarky in his response to God--am *I* responsible for people, o deity who is supposed to be responsible for everything?--but one can draw the conclusion that, yes, being responsible for others' well-being and flourishing is, in fact, part of what it means to truly be human.

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