The Woman in the Fifth (review)

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The Woman in the Fifth Kristin Scott Thomas Ethan Hawke red light

Oh, deliver us, please, from tiresome male fantasies. Ethan Hawke’s (Daybreakers) American writer Tom is down and out in Paris, having been mugged on his first day in town and with no one to turn to, what with the French ex he unexpectedly pops in on calling the police and all — seems he’s violating a restraining order to stay away from her and their small child. (The wimminz, they are so mean to a guy!) But never fear! Tom is both a genius — his sole book has won a Pulitzer or a Nobel or something, cuz that happens — and wildly lucky: the seedy cafe he drops in on is totes happy to front him a room and give him a job. It’s the sort of dream job for a man with wild ideas about the world and his place in it, right on the edge of danger and criminality and all sorts of (supposedly) masculine (supposed) goodness. (No spoilers, but his boss/landlord [Samir Guesmi] is clearly up to much no good, which Tom is perfectly happy to facilitate, and get a little thrill from being in close proximity to.) But the best bit is how all the woman who aren’t, you know, unjustly mean to Tom are simply falling all over themselves to tell him how amazing and wonderful and perfect and brilliant he is, as well as — naturally! — have sex with him while making absolutely no demands on him whatsoever. There’s the cute Polish girl (Joanna Kulig) who works in the cafe and just simply adores Tom, and there’s smart, sophisticated, elegant Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas: Sarah’s Key) — the titular woman in the chic fifth arrondissement — who is so inexcusably a tedious middle-aged male fantasy that– Well, I’m not going to reveal what ends up being sorta the whole point of the film, which is that tedious middle-aged male fantasy in and of itself is presumed to be enough to carry a story, sorta in the same way that Twilight, because it panders to teenaged girl fantasy, presumes itself intriguing. Director Pawel Pawlikowski (Last Resort), working from the novel by Douglas Kennedy [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], either doesn’t realize that middle-aged male fantasies aren’t of interest to most of the filmgoing audience, or doesn’t care. Then again: how is this any different than 90 percent of movies we are offered? I wouldn’t mind so much, except: What a waste of the awesomeness of Kristin Scott Thomas, reduced to a bit of wank material.

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Mon, May 19, 2014 6:43pm

Thank you so much for this review. I just watched this movie and found it infuriating and insulting. Of course, Ebert found it fascinating and thought-provoking…

In particular (though there was so much problematic material to chose from), I thought that the main character’s incredibly sinister stalking of his ex-wife and daughter was very troubling handled—in a way that made it more about him being a poor tortured soul, battling his demons, without ever really acknowledging the violence he’d done to his family (referenced in passing when his ex calls the police) and the threat he posed to them.