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The Woman in the Fifth

December 4, 2011

The Woman in the Fifth (2011)
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Actors: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig

Joanna-Kulig-as-Ania-and-Ethan-Hawke-as-Tom-in-THE-WOMAN-IN-THE-FIFTH-Credit-ATO-Pictures-300x200.jpg (300×200)

Synopsis: Tom (Ethan Hawke) is an American writer with a murky past, arriving in Paris in the attempt to build bridges with his estranged wife and daughter. After disastrously losing his money and possessions, Tom is forced to squat in a dive of a hotel in an unfashionable part of Paris, and is made to do sinister errands by the hotel manager in exchange for a room. All the while, Tom is frantically writing a follow-up to his long-forgotten first novel, while also getting involved with a mysterious woman from the eponymous “fifth arondissement”. When disappearances and murders start to occur, Tom is the main suspect…

Review: This is a strange detour for Pawel Pawlikowski – a director, previously renowned for two very straight, naturalistic dramas Last Resort and My Summer of Love. With The Woman in the Fifth, Pawlikowski has taken a complete about-turn in embracing a project that is much more ‘surreal’ and psychological, and also one that is very much a genre piece – it’s a riff on the theme of the ‘unreliable narrator’ familiar from recent works like Secret Window, The Machinist, Lucia y el sexo etc. In truth, it’s all a bit unconvincing, and Pawlikowski’s earnest photographic sensibilities mar with the sensational elements of the narrative and the need to create an atmosphere of psychological unease – a director like Roman Polanski would have been a much more obvious fit for this kind of material. The drama is developed uneasily, with Hawke’s method mannerisms obscuring the need for his character to be more obviously ‘murky’, and the various subplots about the mysterious lady from the fifth arondissement and Hawke’s seeming criminal complicity with the hotel owner, seem less like purposely enigmatic plot elements, than moments where Pawlikowski has lost control of his material. (December 2011)

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