7 March 2014 | tomsview
The woman in the mind
If you enjoy a movie with loads of atmosphere that leads you deeper and deeper into a complex mystery, and then refuses to give easy answers, then you will love "The Woman in the Fifth" - I know I do.
An American writer, Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke), arrives in Paris to try to meet with his daughter. His ex-wife immediately calls the police and we realise that there has been some ugly history between them.
Broke, Tom is given a room in a seedy hostel in exchange for taking a job as a nightwatchman in the basement of a strange building. At a literary gathering he meets Margit Kadar (Kristen Scott Thomas). Margit lives in the fifth arrondissement - the woman in the fifth - and they have an affair. His life starts to take unexpected turns. At the hotel, he also has an affair with a young Polish waitress, and a confrontation with the aggressive man in the next room. All the while, trying various ways to see his daughter.
By the end of the film there has been a murder, a kidnapping, and revelations about Margit Kadar that reveal that all is not right with Tom Ricks. Not much is explained at the end - the last scene leaves us wondering.
Movies that blur the line between what is real and what is being imagined have been around for a while now. Back in the days of Film Noir it usually turned out that it was all just a dream - a not too satisfying resolution that quickly became trite. However, over the last couple of decades, movies that blur the line have become much trickier.
The process in more recent times may have started with movies that are not exactly ghost stories, but feature people who don't know they are dead. A forerunner was "Carnival of Souls" in 1962, but Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense" wasn't the only one to see dead people, they popped up in "Jacob's Ladder", "The Others", "Passengers", and "November" to name a few.
Then there are the split personalities - the cinematic interpretation of schizophrenia. David Lynch's films, "Lost Highway" and "Mulholland Dr." come to mind. Then there is "Fever", "A Beautiful Mind", and the recent "I, Anna" as well as "Trance", which have explored this phenomenon. "The Woman in the Fifth" belongs with this group.
Although that tricky shift between the real and the imaginary has probably been seen a few times too often now, "the Woman in the Fifth" does it well. This intriguing film has an affecting central story, a fascinating location and compelling performances all round.