THE UNKNOWN GIRL (2017, La Fille Inconnue, France)

September 10, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. A nice story set-up is always welcome, and this one delivers a creative attention-grabber that draws us in pretty quickly. Brothers and long-time filmmaking collaborators Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne (TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT, THE KID WITH A BIKE) edited the film a bit after its Cannes screening, and the result is a quiet little whodunit with an interesting lead actress performance.

A doctor and her intern have a disagreement at closing time, and opt not to answer the clinic door when a young lady rings after hours. The doctor’s guilty conscience leads her to become obsessed with finding out the name of the lady when she turns up murdered the next morning. It’s passionate and amateur sleuthing at its most awkward, unconventional, and dangerous.

Dr Jenny Davin has recently accepted a post at the prestigious Kennedy Hospital, replacing a retiring doctor. The tragedy causes a change of mind on the job so that she may focus on the case and on continuing patient care through her clinic. The filmmakers initially wanted Marion Cotillard for the role (what filmmaker wouldn’t?), but Adele Haenel (LOVE AT FIRST FIGHT) brings her own approach, and though she doesn’t come across as the warmest person, it’s quite apparent that she is a dedicated doctor who cares very much for her patients. Even when she tells her intern Julien (Olivier Bonnaud) that “a good doctor must control his emotions”, she is ever-stoic with her delivery.

The story is missing the usual Dardenne brothers’ twist, and instead, at its core is an ill-advised detective story and a case of morality, guilt, and the drive to do the right thing. The house calls and open communication with doctors will confound some U.S. viewers, but the various vignettes during Dr. Davin’s gumshoe work keep us engaged. The sub-plot with Dr. Davin reigniting intern Julien’s passion for medicine also maintains the minimalist approach and restrained performances … all with a very grounded approach with mostly handheld cameras.

watch the trailer:

 

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IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER (L’homme qu’en aimait trop, Fr, 2015)

May 29, 2015

in the name Greetings again from the darkness. The best French films excel at showing how relationships and personality traits can get intertwined to create a big mess where only a small blip once existed. Based on the book by Renee LeRoux, this film from decorated director Andre Techine is self-described “fiction based on real events” and follows the events that began in 1976, and the fallout over a murder-mystery during the next thirty plus years.

Catherine Deneuve plays Renee LeRoux, the owner of a casino in Nice, and mother to Agnes (Adele Haenel). Agnes returns home from Africa after a split from her husband. She is strong-willed and free-spirited, and intent on cashing out her share of the casino to open her own little shop.

Mother and daughter are tormented by their lack of a close relationship, and this frustration intensifies due to the pressure on Mom’s casino business applied by local mobster Fratoni (Jean Corso), and even moreso thanks to the romantic relationship that brews between Mom’s trusted business advisor Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet) and the much younger Agnes.

Maurice is a well-known (and admitted) Lothario and his business savvy manages to maneuver Agnes into betraying her mother at a crucial time. This betrayal leaves both Maurice and Agnes with a substantial financial gain, while Mom loses her casino. Agnes devolves into obsessed-lover and stalker, while Maurice is content to continue playing the field and enjoy his riches. Soon enough, Agnes disappears without a trace, and of course her mother suspects Maurice has killed her. With no body and no evidence, there can be no murder charges, and this sets Renee on a lifelong mission of proving him guilty.

It’s nice to see Ms. Deneuve take on this role, and the best scenes involve her interactions with Ms. Haenel and Mr. Canet (who wrote and directed the 2006 gem Tell No One). The interactions between these characters is fascinating to watch, and provides some insight to the not-always-positive side of human beings. It’s also a sign of the times as cigarette smoke is present (sometimes in mass quantities) in most every scene, and the French version of “Stand By Me” fits perfectly in a rare moment that lacks tension. The final act provides quite a statement on the justice system in France, though one hates to jump to conclusions based on a few minutes of a movie.

watch the trailer: