Worth watching just to be absorbed into this foggily mysterious ambiance of poetic confusion (see what it made us write?), ‘The Woman In The Fifth’ is the story of writer Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) whose mission to Paris to visit estranged daughter Chloé leads him on a mysterious journey…
Personal tragedy has kept writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski from our screens for too long. But now he returns and, if his award-winning features ‘Last Resort’ and ‘My Summer Of Love’ are anything to go by, we should expect to be absorbed into a quiet, lyrical tale.
Once in Paris, a poor run of luck sees Tom living in a dank, dingy boarding house. He isn’t giving up though and tries to rebuild his life. Although his decision to do so by taking a dodgy security guard job from his landlord Sezer (Samir Guesmi) might not be the best one.
In between the drudgery/mystery (yes it has both) of his job, Tom makes a spontaneous trip to a literary gathering where he meets Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas).
She seems like just the kind of confident, charming woman he needs in his life. But as with everything Tom encounters, everything is not quite what it seems…
Slow, strange and soporific, Pawlikowski’s return is a mesmerizing exercise in mood cinema that makes good use of a surprisingly malleable Ethan Hawke in creating a world that is constantly intriguing without ever really making much sense.
Hawke’s permanently-addled writer is a dreamer par excellence, a man so thoroughly immersed in a mystery that you find yourself tugging idly at the odd threads of story that pass by without ever really expecting much of them.
That Pawlikowski and Hawke can make something so amorphous so absorbing is a credit to both of them. And they are ably assisted in their task by some superb supporting women.
Kristin Scott Thomas emits an aura of intellect and control that make her character appear as a rock of stability, a semblance of normality that hides undercurrents of darker intent.
At the other end of the romantic spectrum, Tom encounters a young Polish waitress who earthy charm, captured marvelously by Joanna Kulig, that speaks of something outside of Tom’s personal experience, but somehow key in understanding it.
As we try to work out their significance, he merely exists with them. Drawn to them, and somehow alive with them.
Elsewhere, everything else is confusing, a turbulent challenge to him. His guard job, with the curious and somewhat frightening clientele who appear in his dank dungeon, his child who he can never truly get close to, even his aggressive neighbor in the boarding house. They form an impenetrable mesh around his fragile world.
The problems come when they are all linked together in a conclusion that does little justice to Ricks’ strange world. The conclusion is a little too neat, with rough edges that seem more arbitrary than artful.
The thoughtfulness that went into some of the strands of this mystery are overshadowed by a headline ‘answer’ that fails to offer a satisfying resolution. Still, this is a film that should fuel plenty of post-viewing coffeehouse chatter.
As a piece of poetic mood cinema, Pawlikowski’s return is more than satisfying. It’s just a shame that the conclusions don’t do justice to the mesmerizing journey of Ethan Hawke’s troubled author.