Movie Review: The Woman In The Fifth

The Woman In The Fifth
Amazon Instant Video | DVD
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Delphine Chuillot, Joanna Kulig and Samir Guesmi
Release Date: June 15, 2012

Ethan Hawke has become a regular sighting on the Parisian streets. He charted the narrow cobblestone streets endlessly while in intimate and deep conversation with his co-star Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, two films remarkably adept at capturing the many facets love is capable of possessing. Seeing him stroll idly and lonely around the not-so touristic venues in The Woman In The Fifth is welcomed and appreciative in the sense that it strips away all romantic notions attached to love and replaces them with disquieting notions that paint love and romance in a negative and perverted light. Though not apparent initially, the film, through Hawke’s character, navigates through a throng of squalid and empty relationships.

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski (he also wrote the film’s screenplay based on Douglas Kennedy’s book) shows us a Paris that is extremely contrary to the one that has been conventionally conveyed in an infinite number of hapless films. Cafes are decrepit, some apartments are illusory, and others exude grotesqueness. This extreme break allows audiences to be unaware of where this film will finally end up. Constantly unfamiliar with the dilapidated Parisian surroundings this film presents, audiences then expect a different kind of narrative to unravel about love and loss.

Hawke plays Tom Ricks, a struggling American novelist who just recently arrived in Paris with hopes of taking care of his daughter and make amends with his divorced wife (Delphine Chuillot). His countenance, mostly covered by big, circular black-framed spectacles, is wearisome and beyond irritated due to personal and familial stress. But there is a strange and becoming allure to his fragility. He is more elegant and inviting than he is scary and standoffish. The people he encounters even experience his odd appeal.

Trying to reconcile with his wife and daughter, his wife bluntly declares that he needn’t be a presence anymore in her or her daughter’s life. Quickly following her phoning the police to ensure her and her daughter’s safety, Tom flees her apartment hastily, frantically carrying with him his luggage on his way to boarding a bus. Waking from a nap on the bus he finds himself to be the last passenger to get off. His luggage has mysteriously vanished along with the bulk of his currency. All he has left is his passport and some spare change to last a few days. He makes his way to a shady café that serves shady people. Asks for a room, is given it (with his passport acting as collateral). Soon after, in a series of inexplicable events, he then finds himself involved in an odd job thanks to the café’s owner (Samir Guesmi), involved with a mysterious woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) he meets at a literature soiree, and also having relations with the owner’s girlfriend (Joanna Kulig).

The Woman In The Fifth has an undiminished haunt about it. It’s mostly evident in the film’s atmospheres and presentation of love, which are both implied with much confidence. It is Pawlikowski’s inability, though, to fully develop ideas and adequately construct a coherent and robust narrative that doesn’t skim over such appetizing parts. Give us more of the enigmatic Margit and how she was able to infiltrate Tom’s existence. Give us more alone time with Tom so we can witness the subtleness to his mental unraveling. Last year’s Certified Copy dwelt on issues and that provided the film with sufficient material to further discuss what exactly it is that’s going on. The Woman In The Fifth insists that we take time after the film is over and engage in passionate speculation with others in debating what is real and what are hallucinations. But little is provided to render such a discussion.

*** out of *****

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