The Woman in the Fifth

The Woman in the Fifth

(M) Madman DVD

This enigmatic arthouse film (directed by Pawel Pawlikowski) explores the disturbing, Kafkaesque world of a man on the brink of psychic collapse.

American writer, Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke)arrives inParisin pursuit of his estranged wife and young daughter. After being robbed of his money and luggage, Tom finds lodging in a sordid cafe and work manning a security system for a sinister but unknown business.

Struggling to see his daughter, an increasingly desperate Tom starts an affair with the sphinx-like Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas), translator, muse and the woman – apparently – living in the fifth arrondissement (district).  Mirroring the disintegration of Tom’s world, a series of increasingly disorientating and menacing events unfold, culminating in murder and the unexplained.

The Woman in the Fifth features strong performances. Hawke is convincing as a man on the edge of breakdown, and Scott Thomas delivers a masterly portrayal of manipulative, controlling eroticism.

The film is visually hypnotic, contrasting artfully composed shots of grim urban streets with interiors such as Margit’s red, womb-like apartment. A further strength is the haunting piano-based score.

The film is weakened by a messy climax and an ill-prepared twist in the tale. It has a chilling beauty, however, and provides elegant testimony to the price a father might pay to protect a beloved child – even from himself.

Katrina Samaras

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