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Review: Girl Unknown


- Basing his work on Paco Bezerra’s stage play, Pablo Maqueda crafts a disturbing and surprising movie with a touch of humour

Review: Girl Unknown
Laia Manzanares in Girl Unknown

“Every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other,” wrote Javier Marías, quoting Charles Dickens, in his novel Berta Isla. As hinted at by its title, this is the background underpinning Girl Unknown [+see also:
interview: Pablo Maqueda
film profile
, the latest film by Pablo Maqueda, presented in the official section of the most recent Málaga Film Festival. Co-written with Paco Bezerra – the writer of the stage play Grooming, on which the movie is based – and Haizea G Viana, it is being released in Spain on 9 June, courtesy of Filmax.

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The film is about the aforementioned concept of “grooming”, taken to mean online child abuse. An adult male – played excellently by Manolo Solo – deceives and blackmails a very childlike girl – also played believably by Laia Manzanares – in order to be able to meet with her in a remote park in Madrid. But as the encounter progresses, we discover that nothing is entirely as it seems. While Girl Unknown is about the online sexual harassment of children, the most interesting and daring part of the movie is the fact that it broaches the subject using an original form and from an innovative point of view, steering clear of merely moralistic aspirations, and this brings unexpected results. Through this storyline, the film manages to talk cleverly and suggestively about the dark recesses of the soul and how we come to reach them, about power relationships and the possibility of skewing them, and about being various people all at once without ever ceasing to be oneself.

Girl Unknown is also one movie and many different ones at the same time. Maqueda skilfully uses the form to drill down to the substance. We start off watching a film of intrigue and suspense – a thriller, of sorts – but gradually, a whole drama narrative and even a horror flick with the odd comical moment also take shape. Maqueda knows how to gauge and establish the tone and the pace required by each individual moment, the times at which each piece of information must be dished out, and above all, what needs to be recounted and what doesn’t – ie, what needs to remain out of shot. There are funny moments – making use of dark and even absurd humour – that serve to relieve the tension and lighten the dark nature of the tale, and sometimes to unsettle us even further. Thanks to this, the director manages to sustain the mystery and the weight of the disturbing elements for the whole running time, posing questions without explicitly answering them, leaving certain avenues open.

In addition, there is much attention to detail and plenty of care given to ensuring a quality mise-en-scène. The intention is to make the most out of very little, through one space and a clutch of characters, and to use this as a starting point to begin revealing elements that piece together the background of the story. One flaw worth mentioning would be that Laia Manzanares’ character is missing more depth – it’s as if her dark side is underdeveloped.

“I do things that are not okay, and I can live with that because you can live with pretty much anything – that’s the really disgusting thing,” says Manolo Solo’s character at one point in the film. Therein lies the truly disturbing thing about Girl Unknown. But it’s also one of its virtues, as it tackles some messed-up and profound subject matter in an entertaining film that has no ambitions to edify the audience. It’s a movie that manages to maintain its punch right till the end, and which urges us to look beyond what we can see.

Girl Unknown is a production by Fórmula Cine AIE and Sideral - Elamedia Estudios, in co-production with La Fragua Audiovisual. It is being sold abroad by Filmax.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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