Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Woman in the Fifth



One of my general rules of thumb is that there is a group of actors who only ever choose interesting films in which to appear. Kristin Scott Thomas is one of these and this film doesn't disappoint. It will confuse, bamboozle, frustrate and cause you to scratch your head. It is a film that asks lots of questions and intentionally offers no answers. I think it is a great film.

Western left-brain culture demands stories with a narrative arc which delivers a successful resolution of the story with a happy ending. This film would be more at home at Studio Ghibli or under the Direction of people like Yimou Zhang but it is Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. It is a dark film that offers a study of depression and confusion, of creativity unable to find an outlet and passion that seemingly can only find expression in fantasy. Or was it reality? Either way, discussing the 'plot' of this film will probably not spoil your enjoyment of it if you decide to watch it - if 'enjoyment' is the right word!

Tom (Ethan Hawke), a novelist, arrives in Paris to seek out his young daughter. He is divorced from his wife and has seemingly recovered from a bout of mental ill health. His wife has a restraining order on him and alerts the police to his presence. He escapes and falls asleep on the bus where he is robbed. The end of the line is a Parisian suburb which is far from salubrious.

Tom ends up in a bar and is offered a room by the owner Sezer (Samir Guesmi) who takes his passport and in doing so seemingly takes away Tom's sense of identity. Sezer's wife is the pretty Ania (Joanna Kulig) who has an interest in literature which develops into an interest in Tom. Sezer who is engaged in criminal activity, offers Tom a job to cover the cost of his room. Like many elements of the film, we never discover what the job is related to. However, we spend much time with Tom 'at work' which becomes a space for him to work on his second novel, but his writing turns into an illustrated letter to his daughter.

Tom is invited to a pretentious literary soiree where he meets the sultry and smoldering Margit (Scott Thomas). She invites him to call her "after 4pm" and agrees to a twice weekly meeting in her apartment in the Fifth arrondissement at 5pm sharp. She is very controlling but seduces a willing Tom. The big question is 'is she real' or a psychotic construct of Tom's illness?

The lighting of the film gives everything a dull glow and many of the shots are long shots or shots through windows or from above as though we are passive voyeurs. This film is visually different. The various elements of the story are spliced together by ethereal shots of a wood, the insects in it and an owl resolutely staring into the camera. It is as though these woodland shots punctuate different psychotic episodes in Tom's spiral downward into ever deeper despair.

This is a bold and brave film which seeks to do something very different. It is not without its flaws and whether it is completely successful is debatable but that shouldn't stop you from watching it. One of its redeeming features is that it is only 85 minutes long which is plenty long enough for the questions Pawlikowski poses to be eloquently stated - but what answers viewers come up with, will be many and varied.

This is not an uplifting film but it will get your grey cells working and leave you with many questions. There are some excellent acting performances from most of the cast. I'm glad I saw it and would watch it again - in a little while. I'll give it 8/10.


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