UNREST – movie review

  • UNREST

    Sundance Institute
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Jennifer Brea
    Written by: Jennifer Brea, Kim Roberts
    Cast: Jennifer Brea, Omar Wasow, Jessica Taylor, Leeray Denton, Karina Handsen, Ron Davis, Nancy Klimas, Paul Cheney
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
    Opens: September 22, 2017
    Unrest Poster #1
    Millennials should be the first to see this documentary.  Ironically, for the most part they will skip it.  Why so?  “Unrest” deals with a serious disease, and of course people do not get diseases before the age of forty, so why bother?  Except that this is not true.  Young people ignor Obamacare, since why should they pay insurance premiums when only old people will need it?  Yet the folks under Jennifer Brea’s focus are young, like the director, who also stars in a film co-written by Kim Roberts.

    After many visits to doctors, Brea had good news and bad news from a neurologist.  The good news is that she now knows what she has; the bad, that there is no cure.  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, known scientifically as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), is quite a bit more deadly than what you might think, if, that is, you think that the afflicted people are simply couch potatoes who sleep a few extra hours each night.  The writer-director found herself confined to bed rest.  At times, she could not speak with any sense; her words came out like gibberish.  Brea tries to escape her fate with her vivid imagination, remembering her travels around the world, a woman whose curiosity became crushed by her disease.  She is an educated woman, having been enrolled in Harvard and Princeton, going for a Ph.D degree before she was felled.  The disease must be taking a toll on her husband, Princeton professor Omar Wasow, who as her husband takes on much of the burden of caring for his fatigued wife.

    Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which afflicts one million Americans (that’s about ¼ of one percent of our population) has reached out around the word to seventeen million others (quite understated, since most people, especially in developing nations, have no diagnosis and since the poor countries are more likely to consider the sickness “all in their heads.”)

    Bea’s symptoms started with a fever of 105, chronically exhausted, having spastic movements like a teenage woman with whom she communicates through her computer and whose father has to lift her gently from bed to get her simply to stand.  You’re probably guessing that doctors, parents, friends and the sick individuals themselves have been accustomed to blaming psychological problems for their distress.

    A welcome change of venue finds us watching the case of Karina Hansen, a Danish patient who is seized by police and taken to a state hospital for CFS/ME, which is erroneously called a psychiatric affliction.  Per Fink, a Danish doctor, calls the disease a psychosomatic one, which, considering that women are more likely to have it than men and therefore are suspected of playing mind games.  Because of this “all in your head” bias, CFS is poorly funded, meaning that there is hardly a race for the cure as there is with various types of cancer.

    Like its patients, the film lacks energy, which could be considered a compliment, I guess, since Brea makes no attempt at charisma but is content to allow its viewers to take the doc seriously and not as a form of entertainment.

    So you twenty-somethings out there.  Will you now sign for Obamacare?

    Unrated.  90 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

THE UNKNOWN GIRL – movie review

THE UNKNOWN GIRL    (La fille inconnue)

IFC Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B
Director:  Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Written by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Cast: Adèle Haenel, Olivier Bonnaud, Jérémie Renier, Louka Minella Christelle Cornil
Screened at:Critics’ link, NYC, 9/1/17
Opens: September 8, 2017
The Unknown Girl Poster #1
At a time that the American people are faced with both threats and exhortations by our president over the future of health care, nobody in Western Europe has any problem with a medical system that is affordable by everyone.  The Dardenne brothers, known for their realism and feeling for social justice, focus their attention on a single doctor in that part of the world, specifically in Liège, Belgium, where a young doctor, Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel), plies her trade in a poor section of town.  During the course of a week or so, we are made privy to her rounds, watching her act out an obsession with the violent death of an African girl, not yet eighteen, and making house calls to people whose lack of education causes many to act with a crassness that more enlightened people would consider taboo.

“The Unknown Girl” combines noir detective drama with moral allegory in a film (French language, English subtitles) that makes us wish the best outcome for the practitioner, who challenges both individuals and police by sticking her nose into affairs that could even get her killed.

There is no music in the film’s soundtrack, a nice plus, something that should be tried by Hollywood for non-blockbuster works to see whether the stories, well told, could involve audiences.

In the drama, Dr. Jenny Davin finds herself overwhelmed by guilt when she and her reluctant intern Julien (Olivier Bonnaud), at work after hours, refuse to answer the bell outside her office.  She finds out that the girl had been desperate to get away from a man who is chasing her.  Since the surveillance camera captures the girl’s image, Jenny carries the photo around the town, asking people whether they had even seen her.  What she finds out is that people lie.  An attendant in a cybercafé never saw her.  A taciturn, rebellious young man, Bryan (Louka Minnella), knows nothing.  Bryan’s father (Jérémie Renier) not only refuse to admit knowledge of the victim but even attacks the doctor for questioning his son.  Her intern is lying to himself, when after five years of studying medicine, he wants to give it all up, because (this is a new one) he cannot get an image of the beatings his father gave him.

The conclusion, that she does solve the mystery, is perhaps obvious to an audience, given our need to see a resolution to her work, but conclusion aside, it’s interesting to note some differences between small-town medicine and doctors as we know them here.  Jenny has an office, but no receptionist.  She has to excuse herself from her patients to answer the door.  She makes house calls and treats an undocumented immigrant who is afraid to go to a hospital lest he be turned in to the police.

Otherwise, she appears to have no relationships outside of her patients, but the Dardennes are not interested in handing us a story with a strong narrative.  We come away with an appreciation of a doctor who, despite telling her intern that emotional connections with patients hinder diagnoses, nonetheless takes time from her busy schedule to track down the victim’s identity so that she can have a proper burial rather than go to an unmarked grave.  And her moral courage does break down the resistance of many others who would otherwise have refused to get involved.  Everything feels naturalistic, proving once again that serious cinema does not need the interference of loud music drowning out dialogue or an array of melodramatic flourishes such as explosions, car crashes and vulgarity.

Unrated.  113 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?