|Image: Artificial Eye|
Author Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) is having a rough time. He’s come to Paris to see his wife and daughter but she won’t see him. His things are stolen and he is forced to stay in the boarding house of the dodgy Sezer (Samir Guesmi) in exchange for acting as a watchman. But when he falls for the alluring Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) his life gets even more dangerous.
The trailer may have sold the film as a mystery but anyone with a passing knowledge of the thriller genre will be disappointed by how quickly they can tell where it’s going. But rather than getting too wrapped up in the logistics, The Woman in the Fifth is far more enjoyable if you let yourself become immersed in director Pawel Pawlikowski’s (My Summer of Love) view of the city. He seems far more interested in creating atmosphere than he does in his story, which, given the flimsy nature of storyline with the standard twists and tricks, is fair enough. Ricks’ letters to his daughter describe the secret forest they created together as Pawlikoswski shoots close-ups of insect life, contrasting the fairy-tale fantasy with the indifferent (and apparently damp) reality. It’s refreshing, too, to see a grimier, less attractive, but no less interesting view of Paris to what we usually get from English languages films set in the city.
Hawke is an obvious choice for the role of Tom, an intense, needy American writer in Paris. The character never really transcends stereotype but Hawke gives a solid performance. The film is unsurprisingly stolen from under his nose by Scott Thomas, who slinks into Tom’s life with a wicked smile and some ego-stroking words. She doesn’t appear until relatively late but the relationship between the two is one of the film’s strongest elements. Margit is muse, lover, and mother all rolled into one. Joanna Kulig is given much less to work with as Ania, the Polish girl at Tom’s boarding house who is inevitably incapable of resisting his charms.
Essentially an art-house take on a B-movie premise, there’s less going on under the surface than the filmmakers might think, but it’s wonderfully atmospheric and Scott Thomas’s performance is predictably excellent.
Enjoyable but finally unsatisfying.