The Woman in the Fifth

27 Nov


Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Writers: Douglas Kennedy (book), Pawel Pawlikowski (screenplay)

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas and Joanna Kulig

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 85 minutes



Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s last film was the 2004 festival hit My Summer of Love and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s odd to me that he has taken 8 years to deliver The Woman in the Fifth and the film itself is a bit of an oddity. It is based on the best-selling novel by Douglas Kennedy. Pawlikowski has adapted the book and condensed it into a fascinating, but flawed 85 minute film.

Ethan Hawke plays Tom Ricks, an American author in Paris trying to reconcile with his ex-wife and to get to know his young daughter. He has been out of their lives and it is clear that his ex-wife has moved on and is nervous of him. Tom finds temporary lodging and work via a small-time hood called Sezer. He runs a bar, rents some fleapit rooms and takes an interest in the down and out author. The fairly dubious work involves monitoring a CCTV camera overnight and Tom uses the time to try and start writing again.

Whilst Tom settles into his humble Parisian life he watches and grabs minutes with his daughter when he can. At the bar he starts an affair with a young waitress. Tom also meets a mysterious woman called Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) at a soiree for book people. She is intelligent, refined and seductive. Tom falls under her spell and she decides to become his muse. They meet at her apartment in the fifth and have lots of adventurous, but perfunctory sex.

What is it all about? – Having seen it, I am still unsure. There is something about writers not knowing who they are. The blocked author Tom is cold, slightly aloof and lost. He is looking for excitement and for thrills to write about and possibly to define him. Apart from that theme I am not sure what else to take. It is a strange piece of work and the ending is frustratingly ambiguous. It might well be the case that much of the film takes place in Tom’s head. Certainly his mental status is called into question more than once.

Regarding the director, Pawlikowski helms this in a dreamy languid style. It is visually interesting and there is a sense of menace or dread throughout. The film has a ‘70’s vibe to it and almost recalls the early work of Roman Polanski, another Polish director. It is mostly accomplished film-making, but unfortunately it leads nowhere. Odd indeed.

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