There are films that pretend to be high art, and The Woman in the Fifth is clearly one of them. It insults your intelligence with its twists, because if a film were to suggest everything had happened in the protagonist's mind, then surely, why bother with this story when you can imagine everything yourself just by looking at the poster and watching the trailer. And surprisingly this is based on a novel written by Douglas Kennedy, so there should be a story at least, unless something went wrong with director Pawel Pawlikowski's adaptation of the screenplay.
A French-British-Polish production, the film boasts the likes of Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, the latter being the titular woman, a widow of a not-so-well read Polish writer. But she appears only about halfway through the film, and we're left to follow Hawke's Tom Ricks, an American English literature professor and writer of only one book, who had journeyed to Paris indefinitely so that he can stalk his estranged wife, and kid. That's because he has a restraining order, and has to keep a distance. He loses all his possessions, and ends up in a motel-bar, where the goodwill of the owner Sezer (Samir Guesmi) meant he could live on credit for the time being.
One hour is spent together with Tom in getting into a routine. He mopes around trying to write, gets frustrated with his neighbour who has bad shared toilet manners, Sezer gets him a job which is a night guard equivalent of sitting in a windowless room screening people entering some premises that is never revealed to be what it is, and in between, he gets to physically romance Scott Thomas' Margit Kardar, who sets certain rules and conditions when and where they can get jiggy with it, and interchanges his muse to Sezer's squeeze Ania (Joanna Kulig) because she's obviously more nubile, and more impressed with his writing credentials than Margit.
But it is this routine that does the film in, because it doesn't bother to lead the story anywhere. If Pawlikowski's objective is to bore, or put something existential onto film, then he succeeded, complete with dreary lines where Margit tells Tom the latter has to experience tragedy in order to write that next big novel. Right, so a translator for her dead husband's literary works suddenly becomes life's guru to a writer, and dispenses plenty of knowledge nuggets to her lover when he visits her periodically for one sole objective.
It's one thing being open ended so as to make the audience work for the pay load, but another if things are kept open ended as a cheat because of the emptiness of the film, leaving it to the audience to guess in any fashion, without clear parameters drawn up because the filmmakers are clueless as to where they want the film to go. No amount of beautiful cinematography can cover up the lack of clarity, and to sugar coat the flimsiness, and silliness of the film, is but a futile effort. While Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke put in good performances, ultimately they are done in by their lines, and probably had an exercise on how to brood effectively for the screen.
The twist could have been done in creepy fashion, since it blows open the possibilities just when things were turning rote and stale past the hour mark, but nothing was done to exploit this sudden window of hope. When it happened, it provided a temporary lift, but ultimately did itself in again by going for things that are inexplicable both logically and emotionally, and as mentioned, if everything can be imagined, then why the need to watch this in the very first place? Save your money for something else more worthwhile, as this stinker sinks to the bottom of the pile, not worth another mention unless to list down the worst of the year.