La Fille Inconnue – The Unknown Girl–– Belgium/France 2016 1hr 53 Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Wednesday, July 18, 6:15pm.
Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, 660 Lombard St.
The Dardenne brothers from Belgium started out as documentary filmmakers. It shows in all their subsequent work: film after film whose subjects are drawn from real life situations and the moral dilemmas they present to ordinary people. In this case, the protagonist is a young doctor named Jenny (a superb Adèle Haenel), who is finishing up her residency in a neighborhood clinic that serves working-class clients, including both legal and illegal immigrants. She is helped by a young intern, Julien (Olivier Bonnaud)
with whom she has an unclear and rather cool working relationship.
One night, after dealing with a young boy who seems to be having a fit, and after the clinic has been closed for an hour, the front door buzzer rings. Julien starts to answer it but the Doctor tells him not to: they have already been closed for an hour. He says it could be urgent. She overrules him and later warns him not to let patient demands overwhelm him. He leaves the clinic without a word, clearly upset but unwilling to talk about what is bothering him. The next morning, two detectives visit the clinic to tell her that, as it turns out, the person who rang that late-night buzzer (she is shown in the clinic video surveillance camera) was found dead across the street that morning at the edge of a construction site. It is unclear if it she was murdered or fell and hit her head. The deceased girl of around 17 has no phone and no identification. Devastated by guilt, the young doctor decides to find out who the girl is.
Throughout her driven quest, the Dardennes keep the camera––and us––with Jenny, who appears in almost every scene, as she introduces us to the worlds of her clients––family struggles, prostitution rings, parental abuse––and even, briefly, to the world of the clinic where she has been offered a well-paying post. At every juncture, her choices are, as in most Dardenne films, moral ones that sometimes expose her to violent threats.
Surprisingly, we learn little about the young doctor, herself. She remains almost completely inscrutable, leaving us to wonder what in her life has given her such compassionate determination.
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