in the Fifth
dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Ethan Hawke,
Kristin Scott Thomas,
Review By Greg Klymkiw
While there is much to admire in Pawel Pawlikowski's film adaptation of a book by Douglas Kennedy, the movie is finally a big mess. Its chief failing is a preponderance of half-baked artsy ambiguities that - within the context of its genre, the psychological thriller - begin to annoy and finally, dissatisfy.
Things begin promisingly, though.
A disheveled academic and one-book-wonder author played by Ethan Hawke, arrives in Paris to re-establish ties with his estranged French wife and daughter. There are hints of mental illness and abuse that result in his comely ex calling the police to invoke the power of a restraining order.
Under considerable duress and jet lag, he falls asleep on a bus. His luggage and wallet are pilfered during his deep slumber and the friendly folks at Paris Transit boot him off the bus at the end of the line.
The end of the line.
This should have been my first hint that I was now on the Hershey Highway of Pretension, but when Hawke stumbles into a strange bar and pension run by a charmingly sleazy Samir Guesmi and his voluptuous Polish squeeze played by Joanna Kulig, mild intrigue in the proceedings won the day.
When he happens upon an exotic Eastern European beauty played by Kristin Scott Thomas who takes a special interest in his schwance, I was especially hooked.
When Guesmi offers Hawke a mysterious job in exchange for room and board, the work and setting are so creepy and perverse I was transfixed.
When Guesmi's Polish sex kitten spreads her milky thighs for some prodigious Ethan Hawke pronging, the movie reeled me in hook, line and sinker.
Man, things are damn peachy in Paris for unwashed, unshaven and unstable American academics.
How peachy are they?
They're so peachy that even an unwashed, unshaven and unstable American academic can land the best poon-tang the City of Light has to offer.
Alas, the whole movie is a tease. Rich atmosphere, fine performances and a few genuine moments of suspense are not enough to deliver a satisfying movie. Red herrings are piled on top of red herrings and then, more red herrings. We keep watching in hopes that things will begin mounting and that the picture is going to deliver a Polanski-styled wallop.
By the end of the picture you're left with too many questions, no answers and a dissatisfying denouement. The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too by setting up the aura of a thriller, dabbling with cerebral elements and not paying off.
Not good enough, Pawel. You clearly have some gifts as a filmmaker, but you need to remove that butt-plug of pretence if you want to blend a thriller with art film tropes.
If anything, The Woman in the Fifth reminded me less of Polanksi and more of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger. With oodles of mystery and ambiguity within the context of an American in a strange land, the Italian maestro's film is richly layered, gorgeously structured and the ambiguity is woven seamlessly into its narrative and thematic elements - unlike Pawlikowski's inconsequential offering,
Antonioni offers plenty of fat on a silver platter to chew on.
Pawlikowski, on the other hand, tosses us gristle on the dog-shit-dappled sidewalks of Paris - to nibble on in the futile search for something resembling satisfaction.
"The Woman in the Fifth" is currently in theatrical release via Mongrel Media.