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The Woman in the Fifth

The Woman in the Fifth

Released 17 February 2012
Director Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring

Kristen Scott Thomas, Ethan Hawke
Writer(s) Pawel Pawlikowski
Producer(s) Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta
Origin France, Poland, United Kingdom
Running Time 85 minutes
Genre Thriller
Rating 15A
40

A fine mess.

It’s surprising to learn that The Woman in the Fifth is based on a novel because narratively it’s all over the place. It almost feels at times as if three different films are happening concurrently, their scenes mixed up and jammed back together to create one baffling whole. Strands start and stop, questions are raised but never answered and interesting directions are abandoned in favour of baffling excursions into the supernatural.

It begins as Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) arrives in Paris. From his brief discussion with customs we learn that he is a writer who has come to spend time in the city with his young daughter and French wife. Clearly though, he is an unwanted intrusion; his wife seems terrified and calls the police. Tom flees and after having all his possessions stolen on a city bus, takes a room in a run down guesthouse in a dodgy part of town.

So at first, it appears that The Woman in the Fifth will follow Tom’s attempts to reconnect with his daughter but this turns out to be a cul-de-sac. Instead, narrative curve balls start to fly thick and fast. Tom meets the Woman of the title, an attractive older woman named Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) and begins a strangely stilted affair with her. He gets a mysterious job as a night watchmen...he begins yet another affair with the girlfriend of a dangerous criminal...he is arrested for the murder of his obnoxious neighbour...and so on and so on. There is so much “story” that none of it actually has any meaning. It just shuffles towards a denouement which stretched both my suspension of disbelief and my patience to breaking point.

It’s a wrong step for director Pawel Pawlikowski in terms of storytelling (see his beautiful My Summer of Love for evidence of his skill). Visually though, it still has its merits. While it’s set in Paris, there is but one cursory nod to the usual movie landscape when the Eiffel Tower appears in the background as Tom and Margit first meet. For the most part, the film shows the shabbiness behind the tourist sparkle; there are repeated shots of ramshackle bus shelters and the ubiquitous graffiti tags that litter the sides of the railway lines. It’s only a pity this cannot save the film from its messy storytelling and general lack of clear intent.

- Linda O’Brien