Some clunky coincidences and unlikely events confuse the film's mission, and it lacks the clarity and parable-like meaning of the brothers' best films.
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Some of the most acute pleasures here are in the doctor-patient exchanges, depicting with a rigorous absence of fuss or sentiment a relationship that's as much intimate as professional.
The Unknown Girl combines its naturalistic direction with a strong lead performance and topicality, although these ingredients are hobbled by their familiarity.
Even the cinematography by the Dardennes’ long-time collaborator Alain Marcoen, usually so instrumental in ensnaring the viewer within their films’ ethical quandaries, is surprisingly flat this time around.
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...is any great sense of narrative or emotional surprise.
The somewhat drab aesthetic and almost vanishingly understated performance style dull the potential pleasures of a good old-fashioned whodunnit to roughly the luminosity of an above-average feature-length episode of a TV procedural.
A run-of-the-mill, plodding drama, the 'social realism' of which never feels particularly real.
If the intimate frame and dour, matter-of-fact aesthetic suggest a return to the raw territory of La Promesse or The Son, what is new here is a flirtation with genre that lends an extra dose of resonance to a finely-scripted story.
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.
It’s only in the final stages of assembly that you start to realise some bits are missing.