Friday, June 15, 2012

The Woman In The Fifth

Murderer's Memoirs? Mental Illness? Woman In Black?

Kristin Scott Thomas as Margit and Ethan Hawke as Tom in Pawel Pawlikowski's mystery drama "The Woman In The Fifth". 
ATO Pictures


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, June 15, 2012

Just in time for Father's Day, Pawel Pawlikowski's "The Woman In The Fifth", a tender if jarring chronicle about fathers and daughters which opened today in numerous cities in the U.S. and Canada, is a thriller told either: a) through the eyes of a dead man, or, b) a Hitchcockian drama about mental illness and distortion, or, c) a film about an unreliable narrator.  The answer lies somewhere in the three choices.  Mr. Pawlikowski's film is based on Douglas Kennedy's novel of the same name. 

Ethan Hawke is Tom, an American writer and college lecturer estranged from his French wife and daughter Chloe.  In Paris for an unauthorized visit to see Chloe, Tom is slightly off-kilter.  He will soon lose his luggage and grip on reality as he stumbles through a cleverly-staged noir by Mr. Pawlikowski, who wrote the screenplay.  David Charap's editing offers glimpses of the reality that surrounds the troubled Tom, a man prone to outbursts.  Tom was sick in hospital, he tells Chloe, bristling at the notion he was in prison.  With no money Tom stays at a dank, squalid Parisian hostel owned and inhabited by some shady types. 

The equilibrium of Tom is further challenged when Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas), a mysterious, apparition-like figure in black, saunters and floats through a room of people.  She knows a lot about Tom, and may have a thing or two in common with him.  Arresting, highly attractive and sensual as a muse-like Margit, Ms. Thomas adds layers of intrigue, suspense and keeps you guessing.  Her eyes show and hide so much at the same time, and though her character is essentially a one-note player supplied as a vehicle to move along an otherwise unremarkable film, Ms. Thomas, whose Margit wears red or black only, lends great weight and value.  "You don't know what you're capable of," she tells Tom, who lapses into periods of dream fantasy.  Unfortunately "The Woman In The Fifth" doesn't know what to do with Margit, particularly in its final, disappointing few minutes. 

Symbolically, and in its atmosphere "The Woman In The Fifth" works fairly well up to a point as an effectual drama, even if it verges on stylistic overkill and self-conscious overtures to the Master of Suspense.  A frequently-glimpsed owl appears to be a mediator of truth.  Eyeglasses, mirrors, and glass are often tilted.  Tom's Ray-Ban eyeglasses are situated slightly awkwardly on his face.  These prisms of refraction and clarity are sometimes obfuscated and blurred just enough, as is the first image of the film, which perhaps holds the clues to its entirety. 

Mr. Pawlikowski isn't short on artistic flair, nor does he shy away from showing us that he's a learned student of Mr. Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman, among others.  Yet other than its setting and scenery there's little else with which to wow us.  That's a shame, because there's decent acting from the sincere, self-serious and ponderous Mr. Hawke, speaking fluent French as Tom, a man wandering through the murky, make-believe novel in his own mind. 

Tom wants to believe he's a saint, a good father and husband, but the subtleties and not-so subtle aspects of "The Woman In The Fifth" appear to indicate otherwise.  Is Tom dead?  Is he a murderer?  Is he a tragic figure?  "Everything I touch I destroy," Tom says at one point.  He narrates letters he writes to Chloe but the voice Tom reads in sounds vaguely regretful.  Tom continuously views Chloe through bars and his own fanciful imagination. 

Mr. Hawke's work is far better here than in "Taking Lives", an Andrew Davis film of a few years ago that starred Angelina Jolie.  There are similarities in the films, though there's a ghoulish, cartoonish aspect to Mr. Davis' film that surpasses anything in "The Woman In The Fifth", a film that is careful, curious and calculating.

Joanna Kulig, Samir Guesmi, Delphine Chuillot, Julie Papillon, Mamadou Minté.

"The Woman In The Fifth" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some sexual content, language and violent images.  The film is in English and French languages with English subtitles.  The film's running time is one hour and 23 minutes.

COPYRIGHT 2012.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW