TIFF 2016: ‘The Unknown Girl’

The Unknown Girl marks another incredible achievement by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne.  Following up their equally brilliant Two Days, One Night, the Daredennes deploy their clinically austere style to great means in The Unknown Girl, which doubly serves as an investigation and character study.

The Unknown Girl follows Dr. Jenny Davin (Adele Haenel): a family doctor who, after refusing to let a young girl (and future murder victim) into her clinic after-hours, develops a conscience and begins investigating the case.  Structurally, the film oscillates between her investigation into the case of the “unknown girl” and scenes of caring and treating her patients.  Occasionally, these scenes intersect, as some of her patients seem to know more about the girl than it would seem.

Anchored by a restrained yet compelling performance from Haenal, The Unknown Girl constitutes a navigation of a female character plagued by a desensitized outlook towards both her medical practice and a conscientious investigation – both of which are dominated by men.  Throughout the film, she is lectured, attacked, and cautioned by men as a way of denying her agency.  Much like Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes successfully articulate female agency both textually and self-reflexively.

Coupled with the Dardennes’ masterful control of stylistic austerity, The Unknown Girl profoundly and subtly interrogates the institutional sexism that runs rampant in both a professional and communal setting.


The Unknown Girl screens at TIFF on:

Sunday, September 11 at 9:15 p.m. @ Visa Screening Room (Elgin)
Thursday, September 15 at 1:30 p.m. @ Winter Garden Theatre

Rating: 14A
Language: French
Runtime: 106 minutes

For more information on the festival, visit the official TIFF webpage here.

Buy tickets here.

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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile

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