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Home Reviews Cinema reviews Film Review: The Woman in the Fifth
Film Review: The Woman in the Fifth Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 16 February 2012 08:51
The Woman in the Fifth review
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas
Certificate: 15

For those who saw Before Sunset and thought the ending was too clear-cut, this ambiguous psychological drama – full of romance, loss and angsty stubble – should hit the spot. For everyone else, it’s a frustrating walk through the back streets of Paris that never works out where it’s going.

Uninspired and out of luck, Ethan Hawke’s burned-out writer journeys to the French capital to reunite with his estranged daughter. One phone call to the police later, he’s running away from his wife and falling asleep on a bus. You'll soon want to do the same.

Stuck in the filthy end of town with his wallet stolen, Hawke’s artiste has to get creative to afford a living. He soon falls in with a dodgy crowd, led by his landlord (a sinister Samir Guesmi), and agrees to watch a warehouse each night without asking any questions.

People come, people go, strange noises come from behind closed doors and the lights flicker on and off. It’s an intriguing set-up, but Pawel Pawlikowski is more interested in the long, rambling letters that Hawke keeps writing to his daughter. He never sends them, of course, but insists on reading them out to us.

He recalls an imaginary forest that the director quietly visualises. Close-ups of colourful insects and blurry shots of bark impress – the director's regular DoP, Ryszard Lenczewski, has a knack for pulling focus to pick out the sharp details in this unseen side of Paris – but the pretty pictures only really spark interest when the titular woman turns up.

"Stay with me," beckons Kristin Scott Thomas, who lives in the city’s fifth arrondissement. "For how long?" "Indefinitely."

She’s a fascinating siren covered in sex appeal, sprinkled with a sultry accent and dunked in an enigma. Sadly, as soon as she’s slipped out of her clothes, she’s swiftly wrapped in a terrible back-story – and any steam that their intriguing affair had built up dissipates with a confused clunk. The final act conjures up a threatening compromise for the father in search of a muse, but the stubborn script can't decide whether to spend time getting to know Joanna Kulig’s charming Polish housekeeper or being mysterious for the sake of it.  

Is it all really happening? Is Ethan Hawke still asleep on that bus? More importantly, do you even care?



  • ethan hawke
  • joanna kulig
  • kristin scott thomas
  • pawel pawlikowski
  • samir guesmi
  • the woman in the fifth