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Woman in the Fifth, The/ La Femme du 5e


Stars: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig, Samir Guesmi, Delphine Chuillot, Julie Papillon, Geoffrey Carey, Mamadou Minte

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

It may seem overly cynical but I’m always a tad wary when movie credits feature the words “A film by…” The auteur theory has its points if taken in small doses but announcements like these often seem rather too egotistical for their own good.

In this case, however, (excluding a charisma-free performance from lacklustre Hawke) writer-director Pawlikowski (making his first film since My Summer of Love in 2004), can take what very little credit there is, along with the catcalls, which in my view are very well deserved for a thriller without thrills and which is ultimately castrated by a mishandled climax.

Pawlikowski has transformed a thriller by American writer Douglas Kennedy into a prototypical art movie which ends up as being more replete with psychological posing than logic.

American writer Hawke comes to Paris hoping to put his life straight by bonding again with his estranged wife Chuillot and young daughter Papillon. He’s rejected and, after having his possessions stolen, ends up penniless living in a filthy hotel and paying his way by working as a nightwatchman for the crooked hotel owner. Then, fortuitously, he meets mysterious Thomas, is drawn into her world and embarks on a passionate affair which triggers off a series of inexplicable events and tips the story over into pretentious psychological twaddle which, I suspect, is meant to represent Hawke’s mental condition or – well, you make up your mind. I never felt Pawliskowski made his up, preferring to settle for sequences which could pass for art…

The most interesting aspect of the film is Pawlikowski’s choice of locations, which transforms Cole Porter’s city of beauty and romance into a series of probably all too accurate but depressingly downbeat locations which, if I’m fair, accurately reflect a movie that takes itself so seriously as art that it largely excludes all but devotees of auteurism.

Alan Frank

France/Poland/UK 2012. UK Distributor: Artificial Eye. Colour.
84 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 17 Feb 2012