Loosely based on an eponymous book by author Douglas Kennedy, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Polish-French production ‘The Woman In The Fifth’ stars Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas. Ethan Hawke, who is famous for roles in movies such as ‘Before Sunset’ and ‘Fast Food Nation’, plays troubled American writer Tom Ricks who goes back to Paris to see his family. His attempts to reconnect with his daughter and estranged wife fail due to some sort of mysterious past scandal, which is never quite revealed, and Tom ends up renting a room in a shady café and working a suspect nocturnal surveillance job.
At a literary soirée, he meets Margit Kadar (Kristin Scott Thomas) who mesmerises him with her icy, manipulative stare. United by their seemingly mysterious and violent past, Tom and Margit have an affair. Kristin’s performance of the Franco-Romanian widow is one of the ‘tour de force’ of this otherwise very ambivalent film: she delivers the femme fatale perfectly, gripping the audience with her ghostly appearance and haunting presence.
This enigmatic thriller moves slowly, only picking up speed as it unravels. The cinematography is great—the aesthetics of the colourless Paris surroundings fit the low-spirited mood and transform the film into a beautiful visual experience. The unusual locations and the soft frames layer the film fittingly by conveying the sometimes-eerie atmosphere perfectly. The film’s metaphors and the symbolism, however beautiful they may be, are slightly too explicit at times and would benefit from some more subtlety. The film leaves you relatively indifferent, albeit dealing with such serious subject matters as isolation and broken families. ‘The woman in the fifth’ is relatively unremarkable in that respect.
Pawlikowski’s earlier films such as ‘My Summer of Love’ are known for their unpredictable endings, and this film is no exception. It’s a cleverly conceived piece of art, which however seems to somewhat lose itself in overly explicit metaphors, while simultaneously confusing the audience which may have left the cinema wondering just what the hell was going on. Its charm potentially lies in this. Just like the plot and the ending, our verdict on this film is undecided.
You can go see ‘The Woman In The Fifth’ at Bíó Paradís on Hverfisgata.