Movie: The Woman in the Fifth

The Woman in the Fifth stars Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Ne le dis à personne, The English Patient). Tom is a writer and university lecturer in Paris to see his estranged wife and daughter. He is robbed and is stuck at a rundown hotel in a Paris suburb, scraping by with an under-the-table job of questionable legality. He meets Margit at a literary evening and soon they are having a torrid affair. When not with Margit (who will only see him after 4pm), he spends his time writing a lengthy letter to his six-year-old daughter and getting to know the waitress/barmaid at the hotel.

The film starts off normally. That is, totally comprehensible and almost ordinary, but once Tom meets Margit, things become strange. It’s that turning point (as in the film The Last Minute when Billy Byrne takes drugs and everything in the film becomes slightly surreal) where you’re not sure what is real and what is not. It’s a dark film, tension-filled, yet also mostly quiet. There are some dramatic and gory points but a lot is not explained.

I often prefer films where things aren’t so cut and dry at the end; closure is not always the best ending. Most films with definitive endings are ones that I cease to think about the moment the credits roll. Far better to have a film be strange and provoke thought and speculation, or leave some puzzlement. In this case, the film was an excellent advertisement for the novel (by Douglas Kennedy), as I’m inclined to pick it up to see what the screenwriter cut out.