DVD La femme du Vème

DVD La femme du Vème
DVD La femme du Vème

Run time: 85 min
Rating: 5.1
Genres: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Douglas Kennedy, Pawel Pawlikowski
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig
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 Anonymous
Plot Keywords: widow, writer, ambient music, male in bathtub, neighbor
Country: France, Poland, UK
Release Date: 16 November 2011 (France)
Box Office
Opening Weekend: $33,011 (USA) (15 June 2012)
Gross: $112,498 (USA) (13 July 2012)


  1. Douglas Kennedy's perplexing novel THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH has been further contorted by writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski for the film of the same name (aka La femme du Vème). If the viewer has read the novel then the confusion of the story will not be as surprising as it is to the novice viewer. In many ways this is a brilliant cinematic exploration of the fragility of the human mind, how events of the past can influence the manner in which we attempt to reconstruct a viable present. But in other ways this is a film that refuses to tell a story that is logical and will leave many viewers with some serious head scratching by movie's end.

    Academic professor of literature and writer Tom Hicks (Ethan Hawke) seems to be fleeing America in the wake of a scandal simply because he wants to see his six-year-old daughter Chloé (Julie Papillon): Tom's estranged wife Nathalie (Delphine Chuillot) refuses to let Tom see his daughter, has a restraining order in place and seems fearful of Tom's character (it is suggested that Tom may have been in prison for the past six years). The police are called and Tom escapes onto a bus, falls asleep and s awakened at the end of the line having been robbed of this luggage and money. He is in the sleazy part of Paris inhabited by North Africans and Moroccans and finds a degree of solace in a tiny café, the beautiful Polish waitress Ania (Joanna Kulig) offers him coffee and introduces him to the owner, Sezer (Samir Guesmi) who allows him to room in the filthy place, an offer that is accompanied by a 'job' where he will be a night watchman in a warehouse visited by shadowy figures who must give a code for Tom to allow entry. Tom uses his night jobsite to write lengthy letters to Chloé and spends his days spying on her at her school. At a bookstore he meets a fellow American who invites him to an evening reception for writers and there he encounters the very strange Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas), a bewitching but enigmatic widow of a Hungarian writer who is obviously attracted to Tom and sets meeting times and places for them to engage in a tryst (in the Fifth Arrondissement). Tom and Margit begin a tempestuous physical affair but at the same time Tom and Ania have an equally passionate affair and there is always in the background Tom's obsession to reunite with his daughter. But the story implodes with a murder, a disappearance, and a very strange change in the veracity of Margit's existence. It is at this point that the film becomes purposefully deranged and bizarre and the audience is left with merely some ideas and clues as to what has really happened. How are these incongruous events to make sense? Can they make sense? Is Tom succumbing to the same fever that kept him sheltered for many days upon his arrival in beautiful Paris? Has time somehow passed him by or is he living in an even grander deceit than he first thought?

    The film is basically in French with English subtitles. Ethan Hawke struggle with the French but that is credible for a 'just arrived' American. Kristin Scott Thomas offers her usual excellent skills as the strange Margit and the remainder of the cast do well with what little dialogue they are given. The dank atmospheric cinematography is by Ryszard Lenczewski and the correctly strange musical score (from an aria form a Handel opera sung by a countertenor to piano music excerpts form the Romantic era) is the work of Max de Wardener. Pawel Pawlikowski's moody, menacing, downbeat film takes something from the director's Polish compatriots Polanski and Kieslowski. It is offbeat but for those who appreciate experimental cinema this is well worth your time.

    Grady Harp

  2. Well, it depends whether you think it really matters. The film works well as a dark and mysterious European thriller for the first two acts, but collapses in a series of unresolved dead ends in the third and final act. Ethan Hawke is excellent as the shabby, messed up novelist Tom Ricks, and KST vamps it up as his imaginary lover, but she really doesn't get enough screen time. The story is an enigma, the end suggests (and I haven't read the novel) that much of what has occurred is a figment of Ricks' psychosis. We know he's probably been in prison or hospital (or both) and Hawke plays him as a man on the edge, with his rage bubbling under all the time. But what is Ricks' reality is impossible to say by the end as nothing really makes sense, as there is no real denouement to the story – there is no final resolution or clarification of what has gone on or what is going on.

    An interesting Euro Thriller which ultimately does not satisfy.

  3. Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) tells the immigration officer at the airport that he has come to Paris to live, write a novel, and take care of his daughter Chloe while his ex-wife works during the day. He probably believes these words as he says them out loud; however, the audience quickly learns Tom is not welcomed by his ex-wife and six year old Chloe thought daddy was in prison. We never learn exactly where Tom came from but it is most likely somewhere unpleasant. Through a combination of errors, Tom manages to have his luggage stolen, the police are after him for violating a restraining order, and he winds up at a seedy café/hotel conveniently located at the last stop on the bus line, never a good neighborhood. Tom Ricks has hit bottom.

    The title The Woman in the Fifth refers to Margit Kadara (Kristin Scott Thomas). While failing spectacularly at small talk at and upscale function for writers and their elite admirers, Tom has one of those moments where Margit is the only person in the room he sees, even though there are 50 some people in the room. They strike up a conversation where she learns he is a novelist, has had one book published which was moderately successful, but is now obviously baffled on if there will be a second book. Tom learns Margit has lived everywhere, speaks six or seven languages fluently, was a muse and translator for her late Hungarian husband, and now seems poised to volunteer to become Tom's muse.

    Tom falls into a job which could only be invented by a novelist. The Woman in the Fifth is adapted from the eponymous 2007 novel by Douglas Kennedy which puts Tom in a job where he is confined to a bare room for six hours every night to watch a video screen. When men appear at the door, they will say a prepared phrase, and if they say the correct phrase, Tom is to press the buzzer to open a door down the hall. He does not know who these men are, why they are coming to the door, or who they are meeting behind that door. What Tom discovers is that behind that door comes some yelling, occasional screaming, and the power fluctuates sometimes during that screaming. This is the perfect job for a novelist who can write uninterrupted for six hours a night and the perfect mysterious predicament for a novelist to place his protagonist in.

    Two other characters straight out of a novel populate Tom's hotel. There is the bar maid (Joanna Kulig) who takes an interest in Tom and there is his next door neighbor, Omar, who never flushes their shared toilet and takes an extra special dislike to Tom when he finds out he is American. As Tom sleepily shuffles around Paris to visit Margit, keep tabs on his ex-wife and daughter, and spend his six hours a night behind a locked door with a buzzer, it is refreshing to see him fall back to the hotel and develop a sweet rapport with the bar maid.

    The movie is mysterious, languid and seems to be setting the audience up for something. What that 'something' is I will not say and you will hopefully not learn before you see the film. Paris seems empty and lonely and after awhile I just wanted Tom to take a nap because as time progresses, he looks dead tired and unaware of his surroundings. Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love, Last Resort), the director and screenplay adaptor, allows time to flow by and rarely defines it. The audience loses track of how many days Tom has been in Paris or if it becomes tomorrow or the day after.

    Ethan Hawke does a very good job of keeping the audience on edge about Tom. He is frequently quiet and contemplative as he melts into a café booth but every now and then there are loud outbursts when a bit of news or a situation displeases him. I have seen variations of Kristin Scott Thomas as Margit before. She is confident, knows how to relax her company, and easily handles Tom when he is falling apart; she knows exactly how to put him back together. Joanna Kulig as the bar maid is a wonderful new presence on screen. She is obviously native Polish like the director, but must converse in two other languages (English and French) along with the rest of the cast. The script shows a narrative strength as I did not realize very often as it seamlessly slipped from French to English and back again.

    After the screening, I overheard a lot of people asking their friends to explain what happened and either agreeing with them in 'aha' moments or shaking their heads in disbelief. The Woman in the Fifth will most likely polarize the audience between those who are familiar with films such as these and those that are unfamiliar with being blindsided and bewildered. I recommend The Woman in the Fifth for both types of audience members. For the indoctrinated, you will appreciate a shadowy script with a fascinating unreliable narrator. For the untested viewer, go and enjoy an intriguing international cast and get your questions ready at the end.

  4. "The Woman in the Fifth," adapted from the novel by Douglas Kennedy, tells the story of an author whose crumbling personal life is second only to the decaying state of his mind. Although it has a definite sequence of events, I hesitate to say that it has a plot. The intention, so far as I could tell, was to toy with the audience's perception of reality, to intentionally raise questions without answering them. Writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski seems to operate under the assumption that a certain degree of madness goes hand in hand with the writing process. To an extent, he's probably right; it takes a special kind of person to not only conceive of fictitious people, places, and plots but to also obsess over them until the story has naturally resolved itself. The real downside is that this usually comes at the expense of a personal life.

    Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke), an American literature professor with one published novel to his name, travels to Paris, desperate to reunite with his six-year-old daughter, Chloe (Julie Papillion). His estranged wife, Nathalie (Delphine Chuillot), clearly does not want him in Chloe's life; the details are not made explicitly clear, although we do know that she has already filed a restraining order against him, and it's strongly suggested that he has spent time in prison. Fleeing from Nathalie's apartment after she calls the police, he boards a bus, falls asleep, and awakens to find that his bag has been stolen. He's now lost in a city he's completely unfamiliar with. The best he has going for him is that he can speak French. He takes refuge in a seedy hostel on the outskirts of town.

    Because he doesn't have the money to pay for a room, he's forced to work as a night guard in a warehouse owned by Sezer (Samir Guesmin), who can never say anything without sounding sinister. The job is simple enough; all Tom has to do is buzz people in. Granted, they must speak in code if they're to be granted access, and it certainly is odd that they look rather shady and pop by at all hours of the night. Then there's the fact that neither Tom nor the audience has any idea what, if anything, they do behind the closed door of the neighboring cell. We are made aware that, every time a group of men enter the room, the light bulbs in the lamp on Tom's desk flicker. And then there's the moment Tom puts his ear against the wall in an attempt to eavesdrop; someone immediately bangs on the wall and warns Tom that, if he continues to listen in, he will be killed.

    As he feverishly handwrites letters to Chloe, all of which detail a magical forest located somewhere in Virginia, two women enter Tom's life. One is Ania (Joanna Kulig), a Polish waitress in Sezer's café who has a healthy interest in poetry. Her attraction to him is not adequately explained, although, given the love and affection he so desperately craves, it's easy to understand his attraction to her. The other woman is the mysterious Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas), the well- travelled translator of her late husband's Hungarian novels. She and Tom met at an upscale literary gathering hosted by an English-speaking bookshop owner. Obviously aware of his attraction to her, she gives Tom a card with her name and address on it. She makes it clear that, if they are to meet, it can only be on her terms.

    And so it comes to pass that he finds himself at Paris' Fifth Arrondissment, entering her apartment and immediately dropping his defenses against her bold, borderline oedipal sexual advances. Tom's attraction to her only deepens as entices him into abandoning everyone and everything he knows. This would include not only Ania, with whom Tom has also begun an affair, but also his wife and daughter. Not long after this has been being established, the plot takes a drastic turn with the inclusion of a sudden murder and an unexplainable disappearance, both of which have direct connections to Tom. Is it possible that Margit isn't quite what she seems, given the fact that she never disclosed the details of her husband's death? And what can Tom – or we, for that matter – make of an unexpected and illogical revelation about Margit?

    Having provided you with a plot description, having enticed with vague hints and strategically worded questions, I'm wondering why I bothered. "The Woman in the Fifth" is not intent on explaining itself; it's a psychological thriller told from an unreliable perspective, so in essence, it's really less of a film and more of an exercise in atmosphere and craft. There is something to be said for that. An enigmatic narrative is far more likely to stimulate the imagination and generate topics of conversation than a traditional detective story, which typically rely on both an explanation and an emotional climax. Having said that, there's a very fine line between an enigma and an underdeveloped screenplay, and at times, this movie comes dangerously close to crossing it. Still, it's an engrossing film – technically competent, structurally magnetic, and wonderfully cast.

    — Chris Pandolfi (www.atatheaternearyou.net)

Leave a Reply

Lost Password