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The Woman In The Fifth (2012)

It's been an age since I found Ethan Hawke so interesting. Which is a turn up, considering I was only so keen on watching this because one of my favourite actresses was in it, Kristin Scott Thomas, no less. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, this is the story of an American middle-aged and estranged father and semi-successful writer, metaphorically (and at times geographically) lost in Paris, where he has travelled in order to see his daughter who is living there with his ex-wife, regardless of the restraining order, forbidding him to approach them.

As opposed to Woody Allen's recent view of Paris, seen through the eyes of an American Tourist Film-maker, the Direction here is fleeting, rarely lingering on anything that would specify a location, save for one scene (above) where the Eiffel Tower plays as a shadowy and sheepish backdrop. Cast mainly with an American, a Brit (playing a half French/Half Romanian) and a Polish girl for muse cum brevity, this is an eclectic collection of nomads, thrown together by (un)fortunate happenstance.

Ethan Hawke's Tom is wracked and mentally sinewy, chewed up by his creative and animal passions on the one hand and the need for contact with his daughter on the other. After failing to elicit a favourable response when he turns up at his ex-wife's apartment unannounced, he rides the bus until he falls asleep, finding upon waking that he has had his belonging stolen as he slumbered. When he gets off the bus, he has no option but to find a (free) place to stay. He ends up in a small hotel, out of the way, where the proprietor, a mysterious man named Sezer, gives him board and lodgings in return for some simple but curious work between 10pm and 4am each night.

It is during his fitful and restless waking hours in the day that he wanders the back streets of Paris, rifling through bookshops, meeting other writers and eventually, the eponymous woman. There is a connection between them immediately which they both can feel and they soon find themselves becoming an item, locked in her apartment, making love with abandon on hedonistic afternoons while the rest of the world passes by, underneath her window, as relevant as if it really didn't exist when they were together.

Pawlikowski's control of the film is superb. The pace is meandering at all times, but every shot is framed with meaning, most often layered with more in the frame than is ever uttered from a script. His choice of shot is exemplary, original and unique. The film has pedigree in spades, just in what is shown. So much so, that it is almost a let-down that there is a narrative at all. The story is simple and even then, it fails to manage to deliver on all counts, so obsessed is Pawlikowski with how the product should look. Half-plots are tossed aside at times, which is a genuine shame as they were delicate vignettes of curios that needed addressing. More time could easily have been given to the story of Sezer, the flickering light-bulb and the delectably intriguing Mr Monde.

Overall, this was a delightful and enthralling piece of cinema that will appeal to actual cinephiles. So little actually happens throughout the course of the criminally short running time of less than ninety minutes, that many would disregard it as less than entertaining. If you look at the pictures on the screen and soak it all up, however, you will see right in front of you what film-making is all about. Art on film. This would have been just about perfect if they had only given the audience another half an hour in the company of these characters and had given some closure to those plot devices that were left high and dry.


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