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The Woman In The Fifth - film review

Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke

Review by Tim Carson

IndieLondon Rating: Two out of five

WITH a top-notch cast such as Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, a critically acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski and a story based (loosely it has to be said) on the hit novel by Douglas Kennedy, The Woman In The Fifth had all the ingredients to be a success. Something, however, seems to have got lost in translation and what’s appeared is a disappointing mess.

Hawke plays Tom Ricks, an American writer who has come to Paris to try and patch things up with his estranged wife and daughter. But his wife has a restraining order out against him and calls the police within minutes of his arrival. Things get worse when all his belongings are stolen and he ends up at a shady hotel run by the dubious Sezer (Samir Guesmi) who gives him a job as a nightwatch man.

The two bright spots in Tom’s crumbling life are Ania, a waitress in the hotel, and Margit (Scott Thomas), a mysterious widow he meets at a literary party and with whom he begins a passionate affair.

So far, so good and so straightforward. Well, on the surface, yes, but there is plenty that’s off-key about what’s going on. The film is shot through with images of a forest and train tracks for which there is little or no explanation. Tom’s view of the world and his marriage is obviously warped as he hasn’t seen his daughter in three years and his wife is clearly very distressed at his re-appearance. Then there’s the mysterious bunker where Tom’s a nightwatch man and the strange almost dream-like encounters he has with Margit.

Director Pawlikowski is clearly playing with the conventions of a thriller and creating a psychological drama that has a lot in common with Black Swan. As the film progresses we begin to doubt what is real and what is in the imagination of Tom. It’s a clever idea and it’s a shame it doesn’t really work.

The pace of the film is too slow – it’s only 83 minutes long but it really seems to drag – and there are too many things that don’t make sense for you to truly become immersed in the mystery. The ending is unsatisfactory and a bit lame with too much left unresolved to reward the amount of investment you’re required to make earlier in the film.

The good performances from all the cast are sadly wasted on a film that seems slight and a little pointless.

Pawlikowski has said he sold the film to Ethan Hawke by saying “let’s make a film that kind of doesn’t make sense” and to that end he has succeeded. If that appeals to you and you’re happy to watch a film just to enjoy the performances and the camera work then you’ll probably enjoy The Woman In The Fifth more than me. You have been warned.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 83mins
UK Release Date: February 17, 2012