The Woman in the Fifth
With two BAFTAs in his basket – one as a Most Promising Newcomer for his debut theatrical feature Last Resort (2000), followed by an Outsdanding British Film of the Year award for My Summer of Love (2004), which has instantly made its way straight into film studies curriculum across the country – Pawel Pawlikowski is definitely a director worth keeping an eye on. This winter, a Polish émigré with a documentary background is finally presenting to us his fourth feature: The Woman in the Fifth.
Ethan Hawke, Academy Award nominee as both actor and screenwriter, plays a not-so-unfamiliar role of a schizophrenic writer in a crisis named Tom, who travels to Paris to look for clues to his past. Trying to reconnect with his six-year-old daughter Chloe and estranged ex-wife, Tom looks for clue to his own identity, hidden somewhere in the pages of the only book he ever wrote, and that he has long since forgot.
When things don’t go according to plan, Tom ends up in a shady hotel in the suburbs, having to work as a night guard to make ends meet.
Who is this man, wandering the grey streets of Paris? Paris, paradoxically a city of romance and inspiration, serves as Tom’s mindset offering bleak, and washed-out streets, as empty as he is.
What is he trying to get back to? Is he trying to remember who he was? Was he ever anyone? Unfamiliar with everything that surrounds him, it seems that Tom knows not much more than we do, looking puzzled in every close-up, almost as if feeling sorry for being unable to justify all this screen time given for someone who has no story to tell. However, as passive as he is, stories still find him along the way – an affair with the charismatic retired muse Margarit, played by the award winning Kristin Scott Thomas, and a young Polish waitress Ania (Joanna Kulig).
Both of them are in love with the idea of Tom being an artist – teasing out his vulnerabilities and poking at the soft spots of his psyche is what gets them hot. Yet Tom has nothing to give, say or promise for women who adore his texts, since the only thing he can now write is apologetic letters to his daughter, who is too young to care and understand.
Somewhere in-between Michael Fassbender in Shame (2011) and Stephen Dorff in Somewhere (2010), Ethan Hawke’s character is a postmodern man in crisis – mute and lost, a stranger to his own life, surrounded by circumstances that he seems not able to control. His raybans, hiding a mix of perpetual discomfort with a hint of romantic idealism and a certain sadness, turn out to be the only true thing about him.
Although based on the novel by Douglas Kennedy, The Woman in the Fifth is a very personal work for Pawlikowski, who has a liberal attitude to adapting books for screen. This film, as well as My Summer of Love completely justifies his attitude – the film works, as a surreal psychological drama with a hint of horror and suspense. It is by far not the best choice for light-hearted evening entertainment but will definitely satisfy all the searchers, for whom watching questions unfolding onscreen is always more pleasurable than getting the answers.
Watch the trailer of The Woman in the Fifth here