Danijel's Review of The Woman in the Fifth
The Woman in the Fifth(2012)
Polish born filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski continues the tradition of Poles doing films in France and at the same time prolonges his own voluntary exile from the home country with The Woman in the Fifth, a 2011 effort set in Paris. Ethan Hawke plays an American writer Tom Ricks (he speaks a little Franch in this one) who comes to the city to visit his family, or more precisely, a six year old daughter. Right at the beginning we learn he may have lost that right sometimes in the past. There is a brief mention of some sort of mental illness Pawlikowski smartly injects and than lets it linger for a while.
When his former wife phones the police, he is forced to leave, just to get mugged soon after. Without the money or clothes, he makes a deal with the owner of some cheep resort to stay there cash - free for a while, under the condition that he surrenders his passport as a pledge. The owner soon hires him to do some shady work for him. Also, two women appear in his life: Ania (Joanna Kulig), a waitress in the resort and Margit (Kristen Scott Thomas), a proffesional muse he meets at a litterarly gathering of some kind.
Pawlikowski's picture has a special connection with the proffesion of its main character. More than madness in general, it deals with the specific demons we tend to connect, stereotipicaly or not, with the great minds of the literaly world. The script (based on the book of the same name by Douglas Kennedy) plays on those with the conviction that we, no matter what are interests might be, posses some notion on what their nature might be. The demones in question always tend to be more carnal, the obsession often multiplied. Margit, no matter how you interpret her character, is an unreachable goal for Tom (let not the size of modern skyscrapers confuse you; the fifth floor is still pretty high). She has what Tom the writer wants, but not necesarily what he needs. Manipulative, inteligently seductive and chalenging, she is also the price he has to pay if he wants to pursue his potential greatness.
The other of the ladies is the security he can't afford. Choosing her is something which your standard audience member will root for, and find it incomprehensible if the hero lets her slip through his fingers. She is simple, gentle and unthreatening. But wouldn't he find her boring after a while? Wouldn't his dry spell inspiration wise just continue?
There are many delicate touches by Pawlikowski; note the way he brings the character played by Kulig to the core of what he's trying to portray. She's like an extra in the beginning. We feel she will remain that way. Than the camera subtly catches her gaze twice in the right time. After that, she become important.
The fact that you get all of this out of the story fades under Pawlikowski's intensely objective approach. What comes out is a very taltented storyteller telling an over - calculated story. At the centre, there is an intense personal battle, one you don't feel satisfied waching as a mere passive observer, and yet that's all you end up being. Think of it as Polanski at his coldest directing a Kieslowski film. You will understeand the desired emotional impact of the ending, but it will drain out before you have a chance to remmember the effect it had on you.