Review of The Woman in the Fifth

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A college lecturer takes off to Paris after a scandal costs him his job. In the City of Lights, he meets a widow who might be involved in a series of murders.
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Movie Review: The Woman in the Fifth

-- Rating: R (strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use)
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: November 16, 2011 (France)
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Genre: Drama

"The Woman in the Fifth" is a drama based on the novel with the same name by Douglas Kennedy. The dialogue is in French, and the original French title is "La femme du Veme." This film has also been dubbed in Polish and English, and it has been released in France, Poland and the United Kingdom.

Pawel Pawlikowski wrote and directed this film, and it was produced by Caroline Benjo and Carole Scotta. "The Woman in the Fifth" stars Samir Guesmi as Sezer, Ethan Hawke as Tom Ricks, Joanna Kulig as Ania and Kristin Scott Thomas as Margit Kadar. It was edited by David Charap, with cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski. Max de Wardener composed the original music in "The Woman in the Fifth." The film studios involved in the production of this film include Film4 Productions in the United Kingdom, Haut et Court in France and SPI International in Poland. Memento was the distributor for "The Woman in the Fifth."

The film opens when Tom Rick, an American novelist, travels to Paris to meet his daughter, Chloe (Julie Papillon). Rick has become estranged from Chloe and is desperate to see her. Their meeting does not go well, and his wife Natalie (Delphine Chuillot) calls the police, informing that Tom he has violated a restraining order. Tom flees before he can be apprehended and checks into a cheap hostel just outside Paris.

Tom has to get a job as a night watchman at a warehouse to pay his hostel bill. His boss is Sezer (Samir Guesmin), who may be conducting criminal activities at the warehouse. The warehouse has a basement with many monitors, and Tom's sole duty is to push a button that allows men to enter the building at night. The work becomes quite dull, and Tom uses the time to write letters to Chloe, These typically involve an imaginary forest. He also tries to meet Chloe at her school, which turns out to be a bad idea.

Tom becomes an interesting fixture at a café owned by Sezer, and he eventually attracts the attention of Ania, a Polish barmaid who is interested in poetry. Ania is sympathetic to Tom and develops romantic feelings for him. She also has unpleasant confrontations with Omar (Mamadou Minte), Tom's obnoxious neighbor.

A bookseller recognizes Tom from a dust-jacket photograph from one of his novels, and he invites Tom to a party for literary people. Tom meets a mysterious translator named Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) at the party, and he is immediately attracted to her worldly manner and personal magnetism. She seduces Tom because she is lonely and searching solely for male company, not a sophisticated companion. Margit dictates the terms of their relationship, and she arranges a regular rendezvous with Tom twice each week. Margit only sees Tom at her apartment.

Margit begins to exert a strong influence on Tom and encourages him to focus on writing his next novel, even to the extent of abandoning his family. People around Tom begin to die or disappear, and it seems that anyone who has done anything wrong to Tom is being punished. Tom's inner torment begins to distort his sense of reality, and he begins to believe that a sinister force is influencing his life. After one of Tom's neighbors is murdered, the police accuse Tom. He attempts to use his regular rendezvous with Margit as an alibi, but he learns that Margit has not lived in that apartment for years.

"The Woman in the Fifth" describes a common human condition. Tom Ricks wants everything, including the admiration of his peers, literary greatness and love from his family. These desires all have a price, and some of them can be mutually exclusive. This film illustrates the disintegration of a man who does not understand his own motives and lives completely in his head. This trait is shared by many other protagonists in Pawlikowski's films, including those in "Moscow to Pietushki" and "Last Resort."

The locations in this film are highly stylized, and they bear little direct resemblance to the real Paris. The director accomplished this effect by choices in framing, lighting and locations. The purpose of this stylization is to reflect the increasing mental instability of the protagonist.

Rating 2 out of 5