In “The Unknown Girl”, Adèle Haenel plays a doctor who seeks to discover the identity of a young woman found dead, to whom she did not open the door of her office. A role that required careful preparation for the actress and the Dardenne brothers.
The Unknown Girl : Adèle Haenel in search of identity
In 2016, The Unknown Girl marks the meeting between Adèle Haenel and the Dardenne brothers. Shot in Seraing, an industrial town located near Liège in which the filmmakers grew up and the setting for all their films, the feature film immerses the viewer in the daily life of Jenny Davin, a young general practitioner who took over a small suburban practice.
One evening, while his colleague Julien (Olivier Bonnaud) is about to open the door to a patient, Jenny asks him not to answer, the cabinet being supposed to be closed. Shortly after, the police informed him that it was a young girl found dead and whose body had not been claimed.
Overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt, Jenny will try to find out the identity of the victim in order to be able to take charge of his burial, without abandoning his work. A quest that will lead her to sometimes dangerous encounters, which will not however distract her from her need to discover the truth.
Adèle Haenel meets many emblematic faces of the cinema of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne in The Unknown Girl, including those of Olivier Gourmet, Jérémie Rénier and Fabrizio Rongione. Marc Zinga and Christelle Cornil complete the cast of this drama selected in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival and nominated for the César for Best Foreign Film.
Listening character, Jenny responds to an awareness. A silent heroine and fully devoted to her obsessive quest that the Dardenne brothers imagined to be older, until they met Adèle Haenel. This rejuvenation has also made it possible to give meaning to the protagonist and his way of forgetting himself, as the actress explains to Cheek :
I find it beautiful, this look at youth. This great seriousness, which leads to a point of great loneliness. To dedicate oneself completely to a cause, to forget oneself in it, not out of sacrifice but just out of seriousness. And by paying a lot of attention to others. It goes completely against the cliché that young people don’t give a fuck, live for themselves and no one else.
Once the script was finished and before filming, the Dardenne brothers did long rehearsals with the actors. A way of constructing their staging, of reflecting on the movements of the camera as well as those of their actors. A preparatory work in which Adèle Haenel was strongly involved according to the filmmakers, cited by the RTBF :
We rehearsed for four weeks with our actors before filming. Not around a table, but on the very scene of the action, working on situations, on travel. During this essential phase, Adèle was present every day and never stopped looking and proposing. It is at the same time spontaneous, unpredictable and light. His creativity gave us solutions we hadn’t thought of.
Understanding the actions of a doctor
For guarantee the feeling of authenticity emanating from The Unknown Girl, the Dardenne brothers were able to count on the advice of a female doctor during the writing of the screenplay. His presence on the set also ensured the credibility of the gestures made in the feature film. Gestures in which Adèle Haenel was trained upstream, in order to be able to fully concentrate on the nature of her character during the shootings. Asked by LCI, the actress explains about it:
I prepared for a month with a doctor who taught me the basic gestures, the arrangement of the organs in the body … On the set, I was able to focus on Jenny who, for me, is built like the Pompidou center. With her, everything that should be inside is outside: her actions are a reflection of who she is. It doesn’t have a hidden black box.