THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH
(La Femme du Veme)
The Woman in the Fifth comes with impeccable arthouse credentials. Pawel Pawlikowski has inveigled Ethan Hawke to play the leading role. Not only that, Hawke manages to deliver most of his performance in French (as well as brings peculiar real-life associations in that he too has had an intermittent career as a novelist). There is also Kristin Scott Thomas in the role of the alluring mystery woman. Elegance and the height of sophistication is something that Kristin Scott Thomas does simply by turning up and it is a surprise that she has never done a femme fatale role like this before.
Pawel Pawlikowski directs with distinctive European stylism. Much is made of the Parisian locations the old-style apartment buildings, the streets, cafes, the metro buzzing in the background. The films very subject matter a foreigner living in Paris, a strange apartment and its neighbours, the protagonists obsession with a woman who comes to take over the mans life and becomes an alter ego inside his head, not to mention a Polish emigre director shooting in France reminds of Roman Polanski and his deeply strange venture into sinister apartments with The Tenant (1976). Pawlikowski never aims for the intense paranoia that Polanski conjured, just a cool detachment. There is an oblique aloofness to the film the mystery job that Ethan Hawke is given involving giving codes to arrivees and letting them through to other locked rooms where we are never told what is happening holds something undeniably Kafka-esque. The film is slow and all concentrated on mood in tone, it is very European and quite different to the commercial release it has been given in the US.
I enjoyed Pawel Pawlikowskis establishment of mood and building mystery. Where I felt disappointed with The Woman in the Fifth was when it actually entered into genre territory. Pawlikowski has stated in interviews about how the film exists in a place where the narrators observation is unreliable. Maybe. Contrarily, I felt that the main twist revelation that it offers up was one that had been done before by a great many other genre films, usually of the horror variety. [PLOT SPOILERS]. Here we learn that Kristin Scott Thomas only exists inside Ethan Hawkes head. The exact cause of him imagining her existence is something we can only speculate about alienation in a foreign city, the estrangement from his daughter. You get the feeling that The Woman in the Fifth wants to burst out into being a horror film but considers such a label beneath itself. Certainly, it finishes about the point where a horror film would only be just warming up it leaves everything at one murder and the probable abduction and abandonment of the daughter (the latter in particular being dealt with in such an indirect way that we are uncertain what happened). A great many other films like Fight Club (1999), High Tension (2003), Identity (2003), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), Secret Window (2004), Martyrs (2008), Pandorum (2009), The Uninvited (2009) and Silent House (2011) have pulled this kind of twist in recent years. The big twist revelation no longer feels like an original surprise anymore, nor one that The Woman in the Fifth takes in any sufficiently interesting directions.