Individual complicity and guilt (as a reflection of the collective societal complicity and guilt) formed the central tenet in the Dardenne brothers’ powerful, poignant, morally complex and deeply affecting The Unknown Girl. The Belgian duo’s acutely perceptive canvas of social realism and empathy for the disadvantaged portrayed how “illegal immigrants” – among the most vulnerable sections of contemporary European society – aren’t just harassed, exploited and disenfranchised in life, they’re at times rendered invisible and anonymous even in death. Jenny (Adèle Haenel) is a conscientious, compassionate and competent doctor who spends her time taking care of Liège’s working class folks by dividing her time between a small clinic and house visits, even as she’s being considered for a position at a prestigious facility. Her rigorously led life, however, faces an unforeseen upheaval when, fatigued after a long day’s work and having to deal with a young intern (Olivier Bonnaud) grappling with emotional challenges of the job, she ignores an after-hours buzzer. As is eventually revealed, a desperate young African immigrant woman of unknown identity had rung the buzzer and was later found dead by the river. Devastated by this news, and suffering a tremendous crisis of faith on her inadvertent role in this, she takes upon herself the onerous task of deciphering the unknown girl’s identity with near monomaniacal obsession. The task, unfortunately, is fraught with challenges as she needs to confront her patients – a vulnerable kid and his guilt-ridden father (Jérémie Renier) – as well as hostile men, mistrustful immigrants and disinterested cops. Haenel gave a stunningly layered and understated turn as Jenny realizes, over the course of her emotionally turbulent ride, the deeply personal nature of broader sociopolitical tragedies.
Director: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Urban Drama