If the Dardenne brothers were filming in English instead of French, it would be easier for critics to admit that The Unknown Girl is a Christian soap opera in which a young idealistic doctor discovers that everyone harbors a secret which is just another version of sin. Whether it’s jealousy, vanity, pride, lust, theft or murder, we’re all guilty and one sure way of atoning is to choose a life of service to the poor and downtrodden
In an early scene, we see Doctor Jenny tending to the infected foot of an overweight elderly diabetic - no gloves for this saintly woman, nor do we see her wash her hands before sitting down to have a snack with her patient. This is but a preamble to her taking on the role of detective to solve the mystery of a young murdered girl’s unknown identity. Jenny will venture into some rough places on her own; she will stand up to shady characters, she will put herself in harm’s way even when it makes little sense. Questioning a man who has procured a prostitute for oral sex as to whether he got her name would be instantly laughable in American English but gets a pass as a sub-title. Would Carmen have been as desirable or successful if her name had been Ms Sonia Perez?
At one point, I had hopes that the Dardenne boys were about to admit that the doctor’s naivete was more disruptive than helpful in a scene where the police complain that her treading on their turf complicated their own investigations and antagonized their inside stool pigeons. Unfortunately, they quickly reverted to some pat scenes of guilt and atonement and our heroine ends on the high note of helping an elderly patient negotiate some stairs. If you like your whodunnits garnished with piety and unlikely remorse, see The Unknown Girl. If you don’t need moralizing with your murder/mystery, especially in French, skip this one - c’est un dud.
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