The Woman in the Fifth
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas and Joanna Kulig
For most of its 83 minutes, the Parisian mystery "The Woman in the Fifth" offers an atmospheric depiction of lonely life in the City of Lights, enhanced by the sullen charisma of star Ethan Hawke.
Director Pawel Pawlikowski unveils the grim urban existence of Hawke's Tom Ricks - an American author and college lecturer who has moved across the pond to be closer to his estranged ex-wife and their daughter - in somber, elegiac tones. Beset by a vague, scandalous past - his ex won't let him see their little girl - Tom finds lodging in a rundown hotel and work monitoring a mysterious industrial building's buzzer system.
Amid the leisurely-paced gloom and doom, the filmmaker plants enticing hints that we're witnessing the world through the protagonist's fraying psyche. Subtly sinister things start to happen - Tom begins an unconventional relationship with a beautiful widow (Kristin Scott Thomas), his threatening neighbor grows more and more menacing and the strange goings-on at the job begin to torture him.
But for all the buildup, for all the promise of minor-key, David Lynch-esque surrealism with a French twist, the movie offers perilously little payoff. It's a mood piece without structure or meaning, featuring a third act that's such a muddled mess you wonder why you've bothered putting the time in to get there.