Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have in their new film, “The Unknown Girl,” created a mystery entwined with a woman doctor’s social conscience. What happens when one doesn’t answer a doorbell and what might have happened if one did? That is the basis for a well-conceived and executed suspenseful drama that is set in Liège and involves an assortment of characters while exploring the main drama.
Dr. Jenny Davin is played by the excellent Adèle Haenel, who works at her surgery and has a young, struggling intern, Julien, portrayed by Olivier Bonnaud. One night she is ready to close up and leave when her downstairs bell rings. The last thing she wishes to do at that point is to see another patient. She doesn’t answer, an inaction that will come back to haunt her.
When the battered body of an African immigrant woman is found along a river bank, Dr. Davin surmises that she was the one who rang her bell. Conscience-stricken, the doctor becomes a detective determined to uncover the woman’s identity, any relatives and see that she be given a proper burial.
It is a tough task, what with interacting with police and finding herself in danger by unsavory underworld characters who want her to butt out. She also deals with a patient whom she suspects may be connected to the crime.
The Dardenne brothers create an overall atmosphere with their customary narrative and visual skills and extract first- rate performances all around, from the star character of the doctor to all of those introduced along the way during her quest to discover what happened and who is responsible.
Always present is the doctor’s feeling of personal responsibility dramatized against a background illuminating class differences, the immigrant world and machinations going on in Liège. As a bonus, we also get a picture of what a medical practice can be like and how a dedicated doctor copes with her daily responsibilities under her country’s health care system. An IFC Films release. Reviewed September 5, 2017.