There have been plenty of odd couplings in the movies before. But this one seems particularly strange: Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas.
It's not that she's more than a decade older than him. It's that she has a lifetime's more elegance. Strangely enough, that might be why this film, in French and English, can be so gripping. Both actors are playing more than believable characters.
He's a mysterious, down-on-his-luck novelist who flies to Paris to be close to his 6-year-old daughter -- even though his estranged wife has a restraining order against him. She's a mysterious, almost-down-on-her-luck widow who served as muse and translator to a foreign writer. Against the beauty and squalor of contemporary Paris, they'll meet and get to know each other.
|'The Woman in the Fifth'|
|2 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas|
|Director: Pawel Pawlikowski|
|Rated: R for some sexual content, language, and violent images|
|Running time: 85 minutes|
Or do they?
Yes, this is one of those psychological thrillers where no one would be quite what they seemed if it weren't so obvious that they're not at all what they seem.
At the beginning of the film, Hawke arrives in Paris and tries to get the ex to have a conversation with him "like normal people" might. "You're not normal," she responds. Yet our sympathy remains with him, because we know nothing of the past to which she refers. And it stays with him even after he accepts a too-good-to-be-true job from a man who is obviously neither good nor true.
It's harder to believe that this elegant widow would be interested in him. Then again, the literary party at which they meet is full of cliched European blowhards. (One says she preferred living under a dictatorship, because of all the attention it paid to her and her work through spying and torture. "Whereas in a democracy, you're left to your own devices. You feel unloved.")
"The Woman in the Fifth" is based on a novel by American writer Douglas Kennedy. It's not an experimental work, by any means. But the film the international director Pawel Pawlikowski has made from it certainly feels like one.