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A dead body near the riverbank. An inconclusive police investigation. A prostitution network, operating from a shady bar. It sounds like the classic ingredients for a Raymond Chandler crime story. In reality, it's the set-up for 'La Fille Inconnue', the latest film by the Belgian film makers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne.
With this crime story, they explore a new genre. Usually, their films are social dramas about people on the fringes of society and their daily struggle for life. With this approach, they have made many very intense and moving films. But in my opinion, they were starting to repeat themselves. 'Deux Jours, Une Nuit', from 2014 was much acclaimed but overrated.
In many of their films, the plot development is secondary to the emotional power of the performances. Not so in 'La Fille Inconnue'. The plot is exciting and functional in carrying the story forward. The central character is a young doctor, who gets obsessed by a murder case because the victim rang her doorbell minutes before being killed. The doctor didn't answer the bell, and blames herself for it. She is determined to reveal the identity of the victim and starts an investigation of her own. Because she is a doctor, she is bound by an oath of silence and can't share her information with the police - a very clever script element. At the end, she manages to solve the crime. But at the same time, the truth confronts her with the fact that the victim would still be alive if she had opened the door.
Of course, this is not a classic crime thriller in the style of, let's say, Claude Chabrol. The Dardenne brothers remain true to their trademark hyper-realistic style and to their social conscience. The young doctor is treating poor, displaced, and lonely people. She herself is a solitary, business-like character. The film is set in the gritty industrial town of Seraing near Liège, the home base of the Dardennes. It's populated by working class people. They don't show emotions easily, and that goes for the doctor as well.
The crime element makes 'La Fille Inconnue' stand out in a positive way. It's one of the best films the Dardenne brothers have made in a long time. And it's definitely one of the best films coming out of Belgium this year. Never mind the lukewarm reception of this film in Cannes.
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