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American writer Tom Ricks comes to Paris desperate to put his life together again and win back the love of his estranged wife and daughter. When things don't go according to plan, he ends up in a shady hotel in the suburbs, having to work as a night guard to make ends meet. Then Margit, a beautiful, mysterious stranger walks into his life and things start looking up. Their passionate and intense relationship triggers a string of inexplicable events... as if an obscure power was taking control of his life. Written by
A gorgeously filmed mess--compelling and almost unfinished in feeling
The Woman in the Fifth (2011)
Well, the reason this movie gets some pretty awful reviews is the utter confusion of the plot. And yet it's a deliberate confusion--which is no excuse. It just means this isn't quite bad filmmaking, but a bad decision or two taken too far.
You see, the main character, played with ease and almost familiarity by Ethan Hawke, is mentally unstable. He seems to have two distinct realities, and these are easily confused by the viewer. And in one of these realities he does terrible things, though it isn't clear because we see those terrible things as innocently as he does (which is to say, not at all, it seems).
The character, Tom Ricks, is an American in Paris, a writer ostensibly in town to find and visit his daughter. But the mother's reaction to his showing up at their house is the first clue that something is wrong. This seemingly smart and very nice fellow scares her to call to the police. We see Ricks run to save himself from arrest but we don't quite know if he's to blame or if the mother is just overreacting.
The fact is the confusions in the movie are overwhelming. Maybe there was a better logic somewhere that an editor, under pressure from a producer or distributor, made much out of. Or maybe it was an artful decision to leave us bewildered, to spend time and emotional energy gathering the pieces and clues. The director, Pawel Pawlikowski, has something of a success or two behind him and so might have pretensions that got the better of things here.
In a way, the movie is better than it's overall impression by the end. There are numerous scenes that show a modern Paris very far removed--and much more revealing--than the glorified city seen in both mainstream French movies and American love letters like Woody Allen's recent time-travel. And the acting is overall restrained and convincing. In its bones, this is a substantial movie. Most of all, the cinematography is superb, some of the best creative stuff I've seen recently, dependent not on creative editing but on smart visual seeing--framing, kinetics, focus, and so on. I think you could watch it on many levels with great pleasure if you knew ahead of time the overall meaning and plot were going to be a mess.
Without forewarning, I'm guessing it leaves mostly frustration and bitterness.
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