The Woman in the Fifth has multiple meanings
Starring Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas. Rated PG. In English, French, and Polish with English subtitles.
The title of The Woman in the Fifth refers to someone in a numbered arrondissement, or district, of central Paris, not a Jeannie in a bottle. But the spooky Hungarian muse played by Kristin Scott Thomas might as well have been found in a well of absinthe, so nightmarishly intoxicated is the youngish American writer trapped in this downbeat mystery.
Ethan Hawke plays American Tom Ricks, author of one published novel and at least some of his current miseries. He’s in France to visit his ex-wife and their small daughter (Delphine Chuillot and Julie Papillon, respectively), but he’s not really welcome. In short order, he runs from the cops, is robbed of his possessions, and winds up at a flophouse in a grimy industrial suburb.
Through a chance encounter with literary expats, he meets Scott Thomas’s Margit, a luminously pale translator nursing her own sad history. They spark, sort of, but Tom can’t quite extricate himself from his digs, where he’s now working for the seedy-looking landlord (Samir Guesmi) as a security guard in some dubious and utterly unexplained venture. There are also some weirdly threatening neighbours, plus an unexpectedly poetic Polish barmaid (Joanna Kulig).
The connection with Poland comes courtesy of writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, a Warsaw-born, Britain-based filmmaker responsible for Emily Blunt’s impressive feature debut, My Summer of Love. In adapting a mystery novel by Douglas Kennedy, Pawlikowski stylishly literalizes the displaced writer’s inward obsessions, using skewed angles, flickering lights, and an awful lot of out-of-focus forest scenes. It’s impressive, in a rather depressingly self-conscious way, and the viewer is invited to read multiple meanings into small events, at least until the more intriguing subplots dry up and things take a turn for the occult. Then you just start to wonder if someone hasn’t had three drinks too many.
Watch the trailer for The Woman in the Fifth.